Lesson 45: "Letters of Commendation. . ." (II Corinthians 3:1)
II Corinthians 3:1--4:6
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. This is lesson #45. Welcome again. As we closed our last lesson at the end of ch. 2, Paid in the last verse said plainly and flatly that some "corrupt the word of God." Surely, it's worth a moment of your time to think about that statement with all of it's ramifications. God gave us his word, some are corrupting his word. Have you ever given someone your word? As human beings; not very many will give you their word and then honestly and dependably keep that word faithfully. But, the Bible you have in your hand, is God's message to us. It is God's word and you can depend God will keep his word. When Jesus said in Matt. 12:36, "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" you can depend on that word. When Paul said on Mars hill in Athens, "he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness..." you can depend on God's word and you can look for that day. It's going to happen. God is faithful in what he has promised. As we have said: not very many men are faithful in their word. In time of temptation and in time of persecution; men sometimes renege on their word. Very often they just don't keep their word. We have God's word also. You have it in your hand. When you read the Bible, that is God speaking to you. When you approach God in prayer; that is you speaking to God. It's bad enough for men not to keep their word, but, what about men taking God's word and corrupting God's word? That's what Paul said was happening. Re-read v.17 at the end of ch. 2. Paul said, "we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God." Is that happening today? Most denominational churches claim to be following the Bible. In all honesty and in all fairness; some don't make that claim, but most do. Those that do, teach all kinds of conflicting doctrines. One says you must be baptized to be saved. Others say you don't! Even those that teach baptism is necessary don't agree. One says be immersed. Another says be sprinkled. Still another says take your choice. That's just one doctrine. What does the Bible teach? What is God's word? I hate to say this Bro. Paul; but men are still doing it. Some are corrupting God's word today also. How many ways are men corrupting God's word today? The answer is a staggering thought. It's an age-old principle that men sometimes try to take advantage of other men by claiming to speak for God. Some take advantage by slanting and shading of meanings to advance their own cause. That is corrupting the word of God. It was happening in the days of Paul; it is still happening. Some of those things happening today would undoubtedly make the Judiazing teachers and the other false teachers of Paul's day blush. Some of those Judiazing teachers who had tried to turn Paul's own words in his earlier epistles against him at Corinth, evidently claimed to have letters (or we would say; credentials) from other brethren and from other churches commending them as God's representatives. Those letters probably had a Jerusalem address at the top. And, some of those letters may have been written by well meaning men; we don't know. Letters of commendation have always been used and were obviously used in the early church. Letters of commendation could be used honestly and for good reason then. They can be used honestly and for good reasons now. They could be used deceitfully in the first century; they can be used deceitfully in the 20th century. A letter is simply a tool of communication. One can communicate honestly or one can communicate deceitfully. So, letters as such are neither good nor bad. These passages do not approve or condemn the use of letters as such. You see, it still goes back to the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
Let's get down to the lesson here. Paul, tell us! What was happening at Corinth? What was the problem? Let's read, beginning in ch. 3. We'll read all of ch. 3 and we'll read the first 6 verses in ch. 4. Are you ready? Beginning in 3:1, let's read. "Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away. How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed hi glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we ah1, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath bh'nded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Alright, if we mix together what is said here with I Cor. ch. 9 and a few other references; it becomes apparent the Judiazing teachers had said hi effect: Paul is not an apostle. Don't listen to him. He doesn't even have credentials. He didn't bring credentials to you from other churches. He didn't receive credentials from you. In the verses we just read; Paul shows how absurd this really is in his case. So, Paul began by asking a couple of questions (v.3). Paul's question is this: would it be appropriate for an apostle to bring letters of commendation to a congregation that owes its very existence to that apostle? i.e., Paul was their father in the faith, so-to-speak. That would be like a father seeking introduction to his own son; and, likewise, if Paul and his colleagues were to seek letters from the Corinthian congregation; that would be like them commending themselves for the very reason that the Corinthian congregation owed its existence to Paul and his colleagues. They had implanted the word in the hearts of the Corinthians to start with. So, for perspective, Paul turned the thought around in v.2. instead of the Corinthian church seeking or manufacturing letters of commendation; in reality Paul said: they were Paul's letters in one sense, i.e., in an allegorical sense. They were an open letter for all the world to read. The word "manifestly" hi v.3 comes from the word "manifest" and means to "make known," i.e., they were an exhibit to the world for Christianity. They were like (or should have been like) a letter from Christ Jesus to the world-at-large. The word "minister" from which the form hi v.3 comes, means a servant. Thus, the Corinthian church was in reality a letter from the Lord Jesus written to the world-at-large and Paul with his colleagues were the servants and scribes that penned that letter written in then- hearts. Not a literal letter written with ink (middle of v.3); but the point is, Paul's allegory fit reality better than them demanding credentials of Paul. That didn't make any sense, you see. If you carry Paul's allegory a little further, as Paul did hi the following verses; this letter consisting of the Corinthian church itself was not carved in tables of stone as the ten commandment law of old was given on tables of stone. Paul's Corinthian letter to the world existed hi the minds and hearts of the Corinthians themselves as Jeremiah 31:33 had prophesied 600-700 years before. You see, Paul thought of himself and his co-workers as mere servants (or secretaries if you will) that did the ground work of implanting God's word hi the hearts and minds of the Corinthians. It didn't really come from Paul. Look at v.5, he said, "our sufficiency is of God." "Who, i.e., God (v.6) hath made us able ministers." In Paul's analogy, this living letter he had written hi the hearts of the Corinthians was a spiritual letter and could give life, spiritual life. In other words, the gospel of Jesus Christ existed hi then: hearts and Paul had taught it to them. This spiritual letter hi their hearts and minds was superior to that letter written on stone and given to Moses in Mt. Sinai. With that remark, Paul was not trying to belittle the ten commandments in any way. Even the ten commandment law, Paul admits, was a glorious law and was given in a most glorious way (v.9); but, Christ's law, you see, was even more glorious yet. Look at v.9, "much more doeth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." Moses' law might be compared to a star of the night whose brightness is eclipsed and totally faded by the rising of the morning sun. As Paul usually does with his illustrations, he repeated his point two or three more times. Look at v.10, "For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth," i.e., comparatively speaking, you see. Now, notice the work "abolished" (end of 13), get an eyeball on that. To abolish means to abrogate or eliminate. You see, this slices right into the doctrine of the Judiazing teacher. Don't miss this! As a matter of fact, it splits their doctrine right down the middle. Do you remember the doctrine of the Judiazers? They taught, "it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5). Don't forget that little letter the apostles at Jerusalem wrote beginning in Acts 15:23! You see this is part of that corrupting the word of God business back in 2:17. Have you got it? "Their minds were blinded" (v.14). It, i.e., Moses' law "is done away in Christ" (end of v.14). Paul illustrated with an incident involving Moses and the children of Israel back in Exodus 34:34; but, it's the application of Paul's illustration here that you want to focus on. Even today their hearts are veiled or blinded, "when Moses is read..." (v.15), i.e., they can't see it as it is. Their vision is distorted. If they would turn to the Lord (v.16) that veil that blinds them doctrinally speaking "shall be taken away." Do you see that? If the Judiazing teachers would put away that doctrinal veil they were wearing, then it would be as clear as the nose on your face, so-to-speak "Now the Lord is that Spirit" (v.17). Paul is contrasting the two covenants here. Please get this! In v.15, please notice: "when Moses is read." Look at that! How can you read Moses? Of course you can't, literally read Moses. That is a substitution for the letter, or the book which was written on tables of stone, the ten commandment law or God's covenant with Moses, in other words. In v.17-18, Paul substitutes the phrase, "the Spirit of the Lord," for the new covenant, i.e., Christ's law. Now, get this: "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," i.e., where the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, bondage to the old is released, or liberated if you will. Now, get a gaze on v.18! "But we all, with open face..." - what does "with open face" mean? Take off the veil! Look into the law of liberty. Paul says the gospel of Christ is like looking into a mirror or looking glass. When we read the New Testament, it reads us. We behold the glory of the Lord. When we behold the glory of the Lord, i.e., when we get Jesus in our hearts and minds, we're talking about the gospel of Christ. When we get this image of glory fixed in our mental apparatus; we will by that very means be transformed to be more and more like Jesus, i.e., when applied and obeyed. Look at it close: "we...are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." God's word can change your life. It's just that simple. We are changed by degrees. In that mirror (known as the gospel), our vision of Jesus is imperfect, of course. The gospel is perfect, (II Tim. 3:15-16) but, we are imperfect human beings. However, to the extent we can see and transform our lives to be like Jesus in accordance with the gospel, we are perfected to that degree. The Judiazing teachers were looking in the wrong place. Can you see also the Judiazers were applying legalistic thinking. Their emphasis was upon letters and credentials; whereas Paul put the emphasis on obedience that takes place in the heart and mind.
Then in ch.4, Paul began to offer die invitation, if you will. Brethren, "seeing we have this ministry", i.e., the gospel of Christ, lef s get on with it so-to-speak. That's the idea. "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (v.3). That puts life saving urgency upon it, you see. Now, get Paul's appeal in v.2: renounce (or get rid of) all the little hidden, dishonest, crafty and deceitful ways of handling the word of God. Thafs an appeal to those "which corrupt the word of God" (back in the last verse of ch.2). "But" (I'm in the middle of 4:2), "But" make it known in "truth," see that? Keep it open, honest and above board in the sight of all, "commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Remember at the end of ch 1 (v.24); Paul said he did not have dominion over their faith. He said, "for by faith ye stand." So, Paul was saying to the Judiazers; don't try to take dominion over men's souls. Teach the woid and let them decide and let them obey. The god of this world in v.4 is Satan. He "hath blinded the minds of them which believe not..." You see, this gets back to that allegorical blindfold or doctrinal veil Paul said the Judiazers were wearing. Get rid of that /eil and let the light of the glorious gospel shine in (last of v.4). That light doesn't come from letters of commendation. Have a good day.