2 Corinthians 2:16b-3:3
Greetings, everyone! Welcome to Friday’s edition of EDiBS, where this week we’ve worked our way through 2 Corinthians 2 and now find ourselves opening up to 2 Corinthians 3. If you’re joining in for the first time today, I’m certainly glad to have you along, and I pray that you’ll be richly blessed by your study time today. Let’s pray as we open our Bibles together.
Lord, you are the awesome, Almighty, Ever-living God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the One who desires nothing greater than to be in relationship with the people you have made. Thank you for restoring us to a right relationship with you through your One and only Son – and thank you for drawing us to yourself by your good and gracious Spirit. Teach us by your Word today, in Jesus’ name we pray – amen.
As we get started today, Paul transitions from the second to the third chapter of his letter to Corinth with some important rhetorical questions designed to – in yet another way – defend his apostleship and the legitimacy of his ministry. Our focus: the church at Corinth, a living letter of the faith!
2 Corinthians 2:16b-3:3
16b And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3You 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.
It’s hard to believe, but we’ll soon be coming up on high school and college graduation season – and with it, what I’ve come to call “the letter of recommendation season.” Every year at this time as we move into early spring, I begin to get requests from soon-to-be graduates getting ready to take the next step in their lives, and even though I only know a few graduating seniors this year, it feels like I’ve written more letters providing character references for jobs and scholarships and college application packets than I have in a long while. In these strange, Covid-tinged times, everyone’s trying to get a leg up, trying to provide the decision-makers with something that will put them over the top — or at least at the top — of the pile. Everyone feels the need to stand out and be noticed so that they can be successful on the next leg of their journey.
2:16b-17: As we move into our Bibles today and get things going, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve backed us up just a little bit and included the last verse and a half of chapter 2 in our reading. That’s because verses 16b-17 of chapter 2 directly connect to the opening verses of chapter 3, and we need the whole section to get a complete thought. The question is asked by Paul in verse 16: “Who is equal to the task?” What task are we talking about? The task of spreading everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. Indeed, who could possibly be worthy, much less competent to carry it out? To start with, you’ll recall that Paul has already said God is the One who does it...but he has gone on to say that God does it through people like Paul. And this is where we get to the issue at hand: there has been doubt on the part of the Corinthians in the immediate past – doubt which is probably lingering among them at present – about Paul’s motives and qualifications to preach among them, the reasons of which we’ve already talked about. So it is that Paul now continues, and will continue for some time, to lay out for them why he is to be trusted.
The first thing he says in verse 17 is that he is not merely a peddler of the gospel, but one who speaks with sincerity as one sent from God. The word peddle has the idea of adulterating or watering down something for gain, and it was especially used of a wine seller who would water down the wine for more profit. Paul says here that he is not like so many others who might water down the gospel for gain. He’s not on the popularity circuit speaking happy little platitudes and passing the hat to line his pockets. On the contrary, he has never been afraid of offending someone with the truth, and never withholds anything just because it might make him unpopular. Likewise, the word for sincerity means “pure” or “transparent.” Barclay says that it’s a word describing something that, when held up against the light of the sun, allows the sunlight through. Think of fine bone china and the way light shines through it and you get the idea. Paul’s point? His message and ministry does not have hidden motives or agendas; it is pure, and the fact is readily apparent to anyone willing to see it.
Verses1-3: That’s what brings us to the beginning of chapter 3 and the asking of those rhetorical questions I mentioned in our Getting Started section. What is this talk about letters of recommendation? What is Paul referring to? Why does he bring up the idea of getting or needing a recommendation for or from the folks in Corinth? In actuality, such letters were common, and often necessary, in the early church. A false prophet or apostle could travel from city to city and easily say, “Paul sent me, so you should support me.” How would people be able to verify that? It was an easy way for a church to get taken advantage of. Thus, to make that kind of deception more difficult, letters of recommendation were often sent with legitimate Christian workers as they traveled. Pastor David Guzik points out that Paul himself had sent letters like that on behalf of others on many occasions, so this is not a foreign topic to Paul’s readers.
So —what of the need for a recommendation? Paul does have one, but it isn’t written in traditional fashion, is it! What does verse 2 say? “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.” Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with a letter of recommendation written on paper. But how much better to have a living letter of recommendation! The Corinthians, as well as other churches to whom Paul has ministered, are Paul’s “living letter” to prove his ministry.
With this truth in mind, as we wrap up for the day here’s how we can put it all together in accordance with the text:
Paul’s letter of recommendation has an author, Jesus Christ.
Paul’s letter of recommendation has a pen, Paul himself.
Paul’s letter of recommendation uses an “ink” — the Holy Spirit.
And finally, Paul’s letter of recommendation does have a “paper” so to speak: the hearts of the Corinthian Christians.
Look around you, the apostle says, and you will be able to read, through my example and through your own changed lives, that my ministry is a genuine one from the Lord Jesus Christ!
There’s more to come on this when we gather again on Monday, so I do hope you’ll join in as we continue to study together. In the meantime, have a super weekend, please make time to be in worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ in whatever fashion you’re currently able, and do continue to be strong — not in yourselves, but in the Lord and His mighty power. God’s peace, everyone! Take care, and I’ll see you soon!