Series on II Corinthians, The Dedication of Paul to Ministry, C Spiritual, 1 Sufficient Credentials, Text: 3:1-6, Title: Living Letters (Communion)


Paul's sincere and successful ministry was, above all, dependent on the Holy Spirit. The preaching of Paul was totally unlike the average religious teaching of his time. Whether it was the scribes and pharisees or the teachers of other eastern religions, all of them were moralists and teachers of law without grace. These days I hear a lot of talk about the moral fiber of America. We pretend to teach morals, but where is the motivation? Morality cannot be taught effectively without the Bible which teaches us the nature of man and the nature of God. Sometimes Christians fall into this trap. As a boy in a liberal Methodist Sunday school I heard lessons like Joseph was a good boy, Samuel was a good boy, Daniel was a good boy, you be one too. This completely ignores God’s redemptive love and his plan. Paul does not. Paul preached Christ and Him crucified, demonstrating that God's covenant of grace with his people was fulfilled. Prophecy, promise, and type had now become reality in Jesus Christ. No more Passover lambs because Christ the lamb slain from the foundation of the world had come and sacrificed Himself for our sins. As a consequence the Spirit of God was poured out, and the gospel swept over the world. And this is the only reason it did! As the Westminster Confession says, “New Testament faith is simpler, with more fullness, more evidence, more spiritual efficacy.” This means spiritual power. The powerless purveyors of the law depended on letters of commendation. As Paul writes in 3:1, Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? Such letters were useful in identifying teachers, but the only real seal of authenticity was changed lives. Today some people depend on degrees and certificates, but the bottom line is always true spirituality, grace and power. So Paul refers to the Corinthians themselves as his letter of commendation. It is a letter which is legible, legitimate, and living.

I A Legible Letter v.2

According to verse 2, the Corinthian converts are letters of commendation which are written on Paul’s heart. You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. They are human letters which are not carried in his hand or in his luggage. They are more precious and indestructible than a letter on paper written in pen and ink. They will not be misused or mislaid. Other teachers did not have the powerful testimony of people's lives. They could not point to the striking contrast between former life of the Corinthians and their new lives transformed by the gospel. Archbishop Cranmer, who was martyred in England 1500 years after Paul wrote to his contemporaries, “I wish that all my brethren, the Bishops would leave the style of our offices and order our diocese in such a way that neither paper,  parchment, lead nor wax, but the very Christian conversation of the people might be the letters and seals of our offices.”  Also, the legibility of Paul's letters could be read by everyone. you don’t need computers or e-mail or TV or publishers or radio or somebody to interpret the handwritten script. It is legible to all.

II A Lawful Letter

Paul's letters of commendation were also lawful letters, written by Christ through His Spirit in the lives of the Corinthian believers. Verse 3 says 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. I emphasize that they were lawful because Paul says they were written not on tablets of stone but on human hearts. The tables of stone is obviously a reference to the law, the ten commandments. Paul is not saying that they have been superseded or are no longer necessary. In fact the promise of the old covenant was that the law would be written on our hearts as new covenant believers. We do not throw away the tablets. it means that in our hearts is a love for God's law. We become like David who wrote in Psalm 1 that the blessed man meditates in God's law day and night or who wrote in Psalm 119 O how love I thy law it is my meditation all the day long. The difference is between a law which is only written in stone and never written in the heart, and the law being known, loved and followed. In modern experience the difference between a Bible which lies dusty on the coffee table and a well read Bible that has been absorbed into the reader's mind. Doesn't James say this very thing in his letter in 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. The law came by Moses and grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, but they are not contradictory. They are supplementary. The power of grace is that it creates a love for the law. Paul’s converts were lawful.

III A Living Letter

These human letters live because the Holy Spirit has given life. Paul is confident because he says, the sovereign God is working life through him. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. This is our only confidence in ministry, and not our wisdom or oratory, clarity, or forcefulness. All are important, but they cannot prevail. Paul makes another contrast. As he compared law and grace he now compares letter and Spirit. These are living letters because they are the work of the Spirit and nothing written on stones or written in your Bibles, or preached from any pulpit can make a real difference. Even God's inspired Word accomplishes nothing if it is not enabled. Paul says the written Word is God-breathed and living and powerful. But if the Spirit doesn't bring the grace of God into our hearts so that we can believe the good news of the gospel that Christ died for our sins, then the words on paper condemn us. It is not just the law that condemns us it is the whole Bible including the gospel. Romans 8:3 says, For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man. Also John 3:18,19 declares, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. The letter condemns. In other words, the whole written word judges us unless we are born again and are changed by the power of God's Spirit. A true spiritual ministry is proven by changed lives. Eric Liddell, the flying Scot, once wrote, “Obedience to God's will is the secret of spiritual knowledge and insight : it is not willingness to know but willingness to do God's will that brings certainty.”


As we come to the table of the lord today we are reminded of repentance and lawful obedience. It is an opportunity for a fresh start with full assurance. But it is also a reminder of the life of the Spirit. Food sustains life. The symbolic elements of this table forcefully remind us that the Spirit is working in our lives to make us living letters read by all, and proving the truth of the gospel. Here we are being renewed and nourished by the Holy Spirit