The Credentials of His Ministry: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Co.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

April 23, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

Lesson II.B.1.a: The Credentials of His Ministry. (3:1-5)

2nd Corinthians 3:1-5 (NKJV)
1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?
2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

Introduction

Paul has spoken of the triumph of the ministry. Now he deals with the accreditation of the ministry. He will reach the heights in this chapter. Paul is asking, “Do I need a letter of recommendation from my employer? Do I need a letter from God testifying that I am His minister?” Paul says, “No, I don’t need to have that—and he gives the reason in verses 2 and 3.

Traveling Christian evangelists in the first century, according to the custom of the day, carried letters of recommendation. With these, a poor preacher would be given, at least, a place to stay, a meal, and an opportunity to speak to the congregation. Apparently, some of the false teachers had gained access to the Corinthian church with such letters. But instead of using their influence to further the cause of the gospel, these teachers had criticized Paul’s message and authority. Part of that criticism was his lack of letters of recommendation.

Commentary

1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?

Paul was aware of the tactics of his opponents (false apostles, Judaizers) and he realized that the swipe he had taken at them might be turned against him. His first question in verse 1 (Do we begin again to commend ourselves?) suggests that this had happened before (See 1 Cor. 9). The Greek word for “commend” means “to introduce.” Thus Paul was asking the Corinthians if he needed to reintroduce himself, as if they had never met, and prove himself once more. The form of the question demanded a negative answer. In 2 Corinthians 2:17 Paul wrote, “Unlike 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.” He was asserting his integrity in the apostolic ministry and answering the charge that he was merely an egotistical braggart who delights in touting his accomplishments. This is not a new charge since previous statements by the apostle had evoked the same accusation. His “stern letter” to the Corinthians, in which he defended himself, maybe what he is referring to here. I don’t think we need to be reminded that Paul, who was only human, always kept completely free from pride. But vicious attacks on him had forced him to defend his record as he does again in 2 Corinthians 4:2{1] and 6:4{2]. Had he not done so, his leadership and his gospel would have been rejected, and the Corinthians, even more than he, would have been the losers.

The second question in this verse is a partial answer to the first. In dealing with the Corinthians, Paul, whose work and love for them they knew so well, surely does not need, as outsiders do, to bring letters of recommendation. “Some,” the many of 2:17, who seem to be the same as the “false apostles” of 2 Corinthians 11:12-13{3], 22-23{4], evidentially did bring letters of recommendation (which they may have forged) to Corinth (a common practice in the first century); letters written by the “important people” in the Jerusalem church (which they may have obtained under false pretenses), and they pointed out that Paul had no such credentials. Being outsiders, and persons unknown to the church, they had reasons to do so, but Paul needs no such testimonials. Paul had

good reasons to doubt the authenticity of their letters (2 Cor. 4:2{1]), for they distorted the Word of God and practiced deception. Moreover, these traveling preachers seem to have asked for such letters from the Corinthians to other places. In all probability, they were emissaries of the Jews who had come to undo Paul’s work, and their letters were written by the Sanhedrin. Once Paul had had such letters himself when he set out for Damascus to obliterate the church (Acts 9:2{13]). It is a sad thing when a person measures his worth by what people say about him instead of by what God knows about him. It should be pointed out that Paul had nothing against such letters and he wrote letters of recommendation at various times for those who served with him—“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me” (Rom 16:1-2; also see 2 Cor. 8:22-24). Paul explains why he doesn’t need such letters in verse 2.

Seemingly, some false teachers had started using letters of recommendation to gain a speaking platform in the Corinthian church, and apparently, these teachers had convinced some of the Corinthian believers that their opinion of Paul was true, and they had begun to question their own spiritual father. In essence, they were demanding that Paul present his qualifications to preach. This is apparent, for right from the start of 2nd Corinthians, Paul had to speak in his own self-defense, defending his recent travel plans (See 2 Cor. 1:12-17). He did this so that the Corinthians would not be misled by the false teachers.

2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

Instead of a written letter of recommendation from the church at Corinth, this active and well-known church was all the recommendation Paul needs. He was God’s human instrument in converting the Corinthians and founding that congregation, and “all men” throughout the entire church know how effective and fruitful his work was. This widespread favorable report means much more than a formal written recommendation of Paul. “Read” continues the comparison with a letter of recommendation; actually, “known and read” means that others learn of Paul’s work by word of mouth and know that the very existence and vitality of the Corinthian church are a high tribute to him. Paul inserts the phrase “written in our hearts,” to express how deep and constant is his love and concern for the Corinthian Christians. His tie with them is not formal or temporary, but personal, close, and marked by enduring love. The Corinthians have a deep and constant affection for Paul as well.

Paul says the Corinthian believers themselves are his letter of recommendation, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” It has been written on their hearts in the transformation which the Spirit of Christ had produced and which was plain for all men to read. The difference Christ had made in them he describes in Galatians 5:19-24{8], where he contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. He sought no other commendation. No other is valid. There is a quality in the genuinely Christian life which nothing but the power of Jesus Christ can explain. This had been revealed to Paul himself as he watched the dying of Stephen and felt the serenity and power of a forgiving spirit. Stephens’ life at that point was a translation of the gospel, seen and read by Paul and resulting in his conversion.

Paul was inextricably intertwined with the Corinthian Christians. Their success was his; their sorrows were also his. In this way, their lives of faith were etched in his heart and the hearts of his co-workers, Silas and Timothy. Just as the lives of the Corinthians were an open book to all, the intimate connection between the Corinthians and their founder, Paul, was manifest to all. So anything the Corinthians did would also reflect on Paul and his ministry, and vice versa.


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