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Is Your Life a Living Letter?

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Is Your Life a Living Letter?

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The apostle Paul makes a thought-provoking statement about a letter of introduction regarding his ministry. It was common in those days for speakers to have such an endorsement or introduction when they traveled. Paul said he had a letter of reference, but not the kind people would think. 

Bogus ministers appeared early on in the Church’s history and were covering and shadowing the same territory as the apostles. In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul wrote: “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (New Living Translation).

Paul chided those who questioned his genuineness immediately in the next chapter: “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not!” (2 Corinthians 3:1, NLT).

One of God’s purposes in man is to create a being whose heart is molded to become like His. 

Paul didn’t need a letter of introduction from others or from Corinthians. He had founded the church in Corinth. However, even as founder, the question arose about who he was, his credentials and qualifications.

Paul took this opportunity to boldly state he had the best kind of reference that anyone could want:

“The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3, NLT, emphasis added).

Brilliant! But what does all this mean? 

Paul’s validation as a minister was not in some kind of certification or endorsement by an outsider. His legitimacy arose from the outcomes, the fruits of his ministry. People could see changed lives resulting from his preaching and service and the work of Jesus Christ in their lives. The certification was not written on a piece of paper or tablet, but inscribed on their hearts. Paul clearly states the writing instrument was the Holy Spirit and the ink is the Word of God. 

Now how’s that for a letter of recommendation to authenticate Paul! 

Here’s some background to the immediate statement Paul made about the Corinthians. When he wrote this second letter to them, the church had made some substantive changes from what Paul had previously written to them. The Corinthians had corrected sinful and inappropriate conduct and attitude. 

Paul’s correction in 1 Corinthians was severe. The congregation was divided into various cliques. People were taking one another to court. But the greatest offense was a case of gross sexual misconduct in a family, and it was generally known in the congregation and tolerated. Paul was upset with their lack of spirituality and told them in direct terms to straighten out all these transgressions of law and decency. 

They did. 

Paul sent his servant Titus to Corinth to find out the church’s reaction. When reports from Titus reached Paul, he found they had indeed taken his letter to heart and repented. He then praised them in the most complimentary manner. 

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

“Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. We have been greatly encouraged by this.

“In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was about the way all of you welcomed him and set his mind at ease. I had told him how proud I was of you—and you didn’t disappoint me. I have always told you the truth, and now my boasting to Titus has also proved true!” (2 Corinthians 7:10-15, NLT). 

Paul was gratified his working with the Corinthians, and the transforming power of God had produced such a wonderful church that could be called an endorsement of Paul’s ministry: “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NLT).

Can We Be a Living Letter?

Can we apply this lesson? Can our lives be considered a Letter of Endorsement? It can be if we examine the elements that make up the letter. 

With God’s Holy Spirit flowing out from us, we never know where the stream will ultimately flow and the nourishing and healing that will take place.

Recall what Paul said, the writing instrument of the letter was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to us when we are baptized: “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show you have received forgiveness for your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). 

The words (which is the ink of the letter) spoken by and inspired by God should be etched onto our hearts. The words are no longer sayings, maxims, interesting adages that can be appreciated from a distance. Rather they become engraved on our hearts and become an inseparable part of our being, our mind and spirit. Those words should be engraved so deeply they transform us from what we were to a beautiful new creation in God. This is a miracle!

One of God’s purposes in man is to create a being whose heart is molded to become like His. It has to be of our volition and choice, though. God will not force it on us, but He will help us. It is given to all who want it. 

When God gave the Ten Commandments, He acknowledged that the people who received them didn’t have the tools to make them a part of their being: “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

The Holy Spirit was not generally available to these people and hence their behavior was usually substandard, unbelieving and rebellious. But God’s intent was for people to apply the words and make them part of their lives. 

In Proverbs, God speaks of internalizing His commands and His way of life: “My son, keep My words, and treasure My commands within you. Keep My commands and live, and My law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:1-3).

The prophet Jeremiah prophesies of the coming of the New Covenant, which spells out what God is doing with man and how ultimately all people will reach their purpose in being: “‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (Jeremiah 31:33).

In one sense it’s quite a straightforward process of becoming submissive to God and compliant with His working in you. He will give you His Spirit if you want it and ask for it. Obedience results in life for us and our family. 

Rivers of Living Water

God uses the Holy Spirit to write His Word on our heart. It also continues as an outward function, a very valuable and productive one. 

When Jesus was speaking publicly, He promised the Holy Spirit and made an observation of how it would work: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39). 

The Holy Spirit that flows into us becomes part of us and now has an outflowing function! The Holy Spirit flows like a river out of our heart. It is described as flowing living water. The Holy Spirit doesn’t remain in our heart, but flows out dynamically doing its work.

What happens to flowing water? We may never fully know, but we do know flowing water gives life. Water has healing and nourishing capabilities. It is significant that Jesus Christ could confidently state that a person who would receive the Spirit of God would be a worker of good and benefit others. 

A river reaches places its source will never know. As Jesus described the workings of the Spirit to His disciples, He said: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The Work of God through His Holy Spirit that is given to His disciples has had a far-reaching effect. Through the mighty working of the Spirit of God, the word about Jesus Christ literally spread to the “ends of the earth.” 

The outflowing of the Spirit of God has long-lasting effects on the lives of people who we come into contact with. Don’t sell short the godly kindness and love you extend to those around you. Words we speak can be healing, refreshing and be remembered for years. 

Some time ago a person made a large donation to a cause I was closely connected with. I was surprised by his generous gesture. I called to thank him for his gift. He told me several decades ago I had spoken to him at a difficult time in his life and patiently spent time listening to his plight. He never forgot that. So, years later, when he saw a need related to our helping people in developing countries, he remembered how he was helped and wanted to reciprocate.

With God’s Holy Spirit flowing out from us, we never know where the stream will ultimately flow and the nourishing and healing that will take place.

A Living Letter

When Paul addressed the Corinthian Church as a “Living Letter,” it was not a clever statement. It was profound, with implications of substance, life, goodness, permanence and eternity. It pointed to the purpose and literally the heart of what a Christian is. 

God’s Word and Mind must be indelibly inscribed on our person, into the deepest parts of our hearts. The dynamic Holy Spirit continues to act in us as it flows out of us, as Christ said, to the “ends of the earth.” It is a beautiful analogy, and is inspiring that God would give imperfect beings like us this great gift!