Have You Wrote Any Letters Lately?

2 Cor 3:1-3

Are we beginning again to tell you how good we are? Some people need to bring letters of recommendation with them or ask you to write letters of recommendation for them. But the only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves! Your lives are a letter written in our hearts, and everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ prepared by us. It is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on stone, but on human hearts. NLT


In our passage today we pick up in the middle of a very intense book. The Corinthians had been won to Jesus Christ by the ministry of the apostle Paul. But of all the places Paul had ministered, the Corinthians seemed to cause him the most problems.

After Paul had been there for about 18 months he moved on. That may not seem like a long time but only at Ephesus did Paul spend more time.

After he left there were some false teachers who had come there with another gospel. But the only way to get the people to abandon Paul's teaching was to criticize Paul. These false teacher had come with letters of recommendation for important people. We do not know if these were real or if they were forged.

Son in this second epistle to the Corinthians Paul brings up the subject.

  1. Are we beginning again to tell you how good we are?
    1. Paul was not that type of person.
      1. He did not spend his time building himself up in the eyes of other.
      2. Instead he built up Jesus so that people could be saved.
  2. Some people need to bring letters of recommendation with them or ask you to write letters of recommendation for them.
  3. But the only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves!
    1. They were the very letter that they thought Paul did not have.
      1. By his ministry among them they had been brought from the depths of paganism to faith in Jesus Christ.
      2. Corinth was the Las Vegas of the day.
      3. But they were changed
        1. 1 Cor 6: 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. NKJV
  4. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts, and everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you.
    1. There is some question about whose hearts are written upon here in this passage.
      1. Some commentators think that both are meant.
      2. They were dear to Paul and therefore written on his heart.
      3. But the ministry of Paul had by the spirit of God been written on their hearts and was read by all men.
      4. Living Bible 2 Corinthians 3:2 The only letter I need is you yourselves! By looking at the good change in your hearts, everyone can see that we have done a good work among you.
      5. Revised Standard 2 Corinthians 3:2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men;
      6. The point that Paul is teaching is that they are the very letters of recommendation that they think he doesn't have.
      7. Had Paul not been a real apostle then the effect of his ministry would not have been seen among them
      1. Think of what Paul is saying.
      2. Every time you came into contact with one of his converts you were reading the ministry of Paul.
      3. Every time you saw someone teaching the word that Paul had taught you were reading the ministry of Paul.
      4. Each of us is writing something somewhere that is being read by those around us.
        1. But what are we writing.
        2. The dream of the angel writing the book with vanishing ink.
        3. The most enduring place to write is in the hearts of others.
        4. For it will be read through all eternity.
    3. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ prepared by us.
      1. But it was more than just Paul it was Christ working through Paul.
      2. Our weapons are not physical but spiritual.
      3. We do not go forth in the power of our own strength but in the Power of the Risen Christ.
    4. It is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.
      1. Remember when they came out with what they called permeant ink.
      2. The most powerful edeligable ink is the Holy Spirit
        1. There is no power greater that God's in the chnging of a persons heart.
        2. God can work in such was as to change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
        3. God can take the worst person and change them.
    5. It is carved not on stone, but on human hearts.


 This message was preached at FBC Toulon,
by Albert Harmon. See it at http://toulonbaptist.com/  

2 Cor 3:2

At this point the figure again shifts; the letter being now conceived as written on the Corinthians' hearts, instead of on the hearts of the apostles: written by Christ through the apostles' ministry. This suggests the comparison with the law written on tables of stone, which are used as a figure of the heart, "fleshy tables," thus introducing two incongruities, namely, "an epistle" written "on stone," and writing "with ink on stone tables."

(from Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)


2 Cor 3:3

An epistle written by Christ through our ministry; that is, you, as the converted subjects of our ministry, are an epistle of Christ. Others explain: an epistle of which Christ forms the contents, thus making the apostles the writers.

(from Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)


2 Cor 3:2

Known and read ginooskomenee (NT:1097) kai (NT:2532) anaginooskomenee (NT:314). Play on the word. Literally true. Professing Christians are the Bible that men read and know.

(from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft & Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. Copyright (c) 1985 by Broadman Press)


2 Cor 3:3


An epistle of Christ epistolee (NT:1992) Christou (NT:5547). He turns the metaphor round and round. They are Christ's letter to men as well as Paul's.

(from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft & Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. Copyright (c) 1985 by Broadman Press)


Sacred penmanship

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men. --

Sacred penmanship: -- "Self-praise is no recommendation," and the "sounding of one's own trumpet" is not to be applauded. False teachers had entered into the Corinthian Church, and they had found it necessary to have letters of recommendation, but Paul needed no such introduction. Truth and righteousness recommend themselves in the work they accomplish. Our translation admits of another rendering -- namely, "Ye are our epistles written in your hearts," and this would imply that Paul had been enabled to pencil something in the hearts of others which could be read by all men; and it is with this idea I shall deal in speaking about sacred penmanship.

I. Observe THE REQUISITES FOR WRITING. The accessories must be provided, however, for a letter to be written, and let us briefly notice these -- pen, ink, and paper.

1. In the third verse we have the pen: "Forasmuch as ye are declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us." Here is the instrument in the hand of God. The Church was divided, for one said, "I am of Paul," another, "I am of Cephas"; but these good men were only the pens whereby God, through His Spirit, had written upon the fleshy tables of their hearts. Among these instruments there must ever be a variety. The rough and rude can, however, be made to write well. Paul, though he was not eloquent of speech, but somewhat blunt, had power to get hold of men's hearts, and he wrote upon them, with dark, indelible lines, great truths. Apollos could speak with eloquence of diction, and finely pencil the Scripture, so that the Jews were mightily convinced that Jesus was the Christ. John was another such instrument. Soft in love, sketching in poetry the wonderful revelations he had of "the better land," he would win hearts for Jesus.

2. Then there must be the ink. The sacred fluid is the Spirit of God. "Written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God." The mysterious influence that flows through us is not of earthly manufacture.

3. The next requisite is the paper. It is not written upon stone, but "in fleshy tables of the heart." A soft heart best absorbs the ink, a living tablet best retains impressions. Lord, write first in us, and then make us as the "pen of the ready writer," to make our mark on others.

II. THE READERS OF THE WRITING. "Known and read of all men." The writing is real -- no fiction, for the author is Christ. We are the autograph letters of our Lord, and bear His signature. The writing is clear, for we are "manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ." Now, this document is a public one. Believers are the library for the world; they are a Christian literature; each saint is a volume to expound the grace of God. "Known and read of all men." We may consider the readers of this writing to be of three classes --

1. The intelligent. Many are real students of Christian character, desirous of gaining knowledge for their own good in spiritual attainments.

2. Then there are the interested readers -- our friends who like to see if we make progress in Divine things. The "first series" of Christian experiences are interesting, and are studied with deep anxiety by those who love young converts.

3. The last class I have called the inquisitive. They only peruse to find fault. Ours must be so correct an epistle that fault-finders shall find it difficult to gratify their morbid taste. The schoolmaster says to his boys, "Be sure you dot your i's and cross your t's"; and we too must be mindful of little things. (Charles Spurgeon.) (from The Biblical Illustrator Copyright (c) 2002 AGES and Biblesoft, Inc.)


Epistles of Christ: imperfect and spurious

Epistles of Christ: imperfect and spurious: -- The Bible is God's book for the world, only it shuts it. But the world will read you. Masters, your servants read you; servants, your masters read you; so will parents children, etc. Do they read in you what they ought to read? A Christian should be a Bible alive. Never mind though a man has not learned his letters; he will be able to read you fast enough. All men can read justice, mercy, and truth, or the opposite of them.

1. One day a thought flashed into my mind that I did not want to lose, and, having no paper at hand except a letter from a friend, I just wrote between the lines of it; and when I had done that the fancy struck me to read through the writing as it stood, one line of my friends and one of my own, and you cannot think what nonsense it was! Ah! there are some characters like that. I dare not say there was nothing about them that Christ had written, but they have sadly allowed the devil and the world to underline them; there is no coherency or consistency in them.

2. I remember, when I was a little boy at school, if I by any chance managed to make the smallest blot, as sure as I took the book up to my master, the first thing he looked at was the blot; and, as sure as I took it home, the first thing anybody looked at was the blot. My letters may have been made very gracefully, but nobody said a word about them; but everybody said something about the blot. Ah! I have known some people very good on the whole, but they have had sad blots -- blots of temper, vanity, and worldliness. The sun himself is looked at more during the few minutes he has a black spot on his face than on all the days of the year besides. The world has an eagle glance for your spots, and if you have a spot on your character people will look more at it than at all the beautiful things that are there.

3. I got a letter one day which had been sent to a committee. For the life of them they could not read it, and they sent it to me to try to make it out. It was a difficult task, and when I had made out the words I could scarcely make out the sense. It was a letter, but a very unintelligible one. I have known some characters like that, and if I preached to such I should have to take the text, "I stand in doubt of you." These are not like the epistles spoken of in the text, "known and read of all men," Endeavour to keep clear of such a character that nobody can tell what list to put you in: avoid being so quaint and difficult that nobody can tell what to make of you. May it be said of you, as it was said as I passed the door of a godly man who had lately died, "If ever there was a Christian, that man was one."

4. I remember, just before I left my last circuit, that I looked over a great number of old letters, some of which, at the time I received them, were so precious that I put them away to preserve them, and several of these had become so creased and dirty and illegible that I was obliged to throw them into the fire, though once they were so precious to me. I should not like that any of you who had been real letters of Christ's own writing should become so careless and worldly that the writing became marred. I should not like that you should get into such a cold, backsliding state that all the beautiful letters that once were put upon you should become illegible, and that at the last Christ should say, "Cast them into the fire."

5. I was once in an assize court where a man was being tried for forgery. The individual whose writing, it was suspected, had been imitated, was dead, and so a large letter-book, full of what was known to be the writing of the deceased, was produced in court, to test the alleged forgery by it. If you are letters of Christ you will resemble His writing. The very name Christian implies that you profess to have Christ's name written upon you. But it is no use to profess to be Christ's epistle if you are not like Him. Suppose I picked up a letter which professed on the face of it to be a letter from Jesus Christ, but recommended this congregation to be worldly-minded, to love gold, to be fretful and peevish, and to be guilty of evil-speaking and slander. Of course I should know that it was no letter from Jesus Christ. I wonder whether all present who profess to be Christ's epistles ever do that which Christ would not put His name to? Are you genuine letters? A friend of mine went to the bank to pay in some money. Amongst it there was a ten-pound note. The clerk looked at it carefully, and then stamped "Forged" right across it. What a sad thing it would be if any of you who profess to be epistles of Christ now should at the last be disowned of Him, and He should say, "You are none of Mine -- forged"!

(S. Coley.) (from The Biblical Illustrator Copyright (c) 2002 AGES and Biblesoft, Inc.)


An epistle of Christ

n epistle of Christ: -- A missionary in India was so feeble mentally that 'he could not learn the language, After some years he asked to be recalled, frankly saying that he had not sufficient intellect for the work. A dozen missionaries, however, petitioned his Board not to grant his request, saying that his goodness gave him a wider influence among the heathen than any other missionary at the station. A convert, when asked, "What is it to be a Christian?" replied, "It is to be like Mr. -- ," naming the good missionary. He was kept in India. He never preached a sermon, but when he died hundreds of heathen, as well as many Christians, mourned him, and testified to his holy life and character. (S. S. Chronicle.) (from The Biblical Illustrator Copyright (c) 2002 AGES and Biblesoft, Inc.)


known and read by all men. The transformed lives of the Corinthians were Paul's most eloquent testimonial, better than any secondhand letter. Their changed lives were like an open letter that could be seen and read by all men as a testimony to Paul's faithfulness and the truth of his message. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, (Dallas: Word Publishing) 1997.


3:3 The disciple himself is an open letter to the world. The letter is not composed with ink on paper but with the Holy Spirit of God on the hearts of men. The Corinthians were eloquent witnesses, by their very existence, to the ministry of Paul. Since there were those at Corinth determined to undermine Paul's authority, the Corinthians themselves needed to be reminded that Paul was the one who introduced Christianity in Corinth. Christ was the Author of their salvation, and they were an epistle of Christ. Paul had been the medium by whom the Savior had penned His letter. W.A. Criswell, Believer's study Bible [computer file], electronic ed. , Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1991 by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies.


6. 2 Corinthians 3:1

Are we beginning again to tell you how good we are? (nlt) Paul showed a great deal of sensitivity to the charge of praising himself or recommending himself to the Corinthians. He categorically denied doing the actions suggested here (see also 5:12 and 10:18). Obviously, Paul did not want to appear as if he were bragging about his accomplishments in the ministry (see 11:17). Instead, he was making a conscious effort to brag only about how Christ's strength was apparent in his weaknesses (see 11:30).

The Corinthians were putting Paul in a difficult situation. He, along with his coworkers Silas and Timothy, had founded the church. Paul didn't need to defend himself to the Corinthians: Their existence as a church was due to his Spirit-empowered preaching. Instead of questioning those preachers who came after him, the Corinthians 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 at the start of 2 Corinthians, Paul had to speak in his own self-defense, defending his recent travel plans (1:12-17). He did this so that the Corinthians would not be misled by the false teachers.

Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? (niv) Just as people use r‚sum‚s today to introduce themselves to a prospective employer, in Paul's day traveling preachers and evangelists introduced themselves with letters of recommendation from various churches. Paul had written letters of recommendation on behalf of Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) and Timothy (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). These letters helped Paul's trusted companions and friends find a welcome in various churches.

Apparently some false teachers had started using letters of recommendation to gain a speaking platform in the Corinthian church (see 11:13-15). These traveling peddlers of the Word of God, as Paul called them (2:17), had come to Corinth with these letters--perhaps authentic, perhaps forged--and were asking the Corinthians to recommend them to other churches. The letters gained for them hospitality from members of other churches, an opportunity to speak, and even reimbursement.

Apparently some of these false teachers had begun to criticize Paul's authority by subtly asking if he had presented any letters of recommendation. Justifiably, Paul was annoyed that he would have to explain his apostolic credentials to the church he had founded.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3

But the only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves! Your lives are a letter written in our hearts, and everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. (nlt) In a clear and forceful way, Paul stated that he did not need any letters. The changed lives of the believers to whom he and his companions had preached were recommendation enough. Any discipleship program should be judged by the quality of those who have been discipled.

Paul claimed that the changed lives of the Corinthian believers were a letter written in our hearts. Some ancient manuscripts read "your hearts" instead; therefore, some have interpreted this verse as saying that the Corinthians' own hearts, their own changed lives by the Holy Spirit, testified to Paul's apostolic authority to all those who saw it. But this affirmation is made by Paul in the next verse. Thus, the reading with "our hearts," though more difficult to interpret, is probably original. Paul might have been trying to express his own participation in the lives of the Corinthians (a theme of this letter, see 1:6-7, 11; 2:5-6). As an evangelist to them, Paul was inextricably intertwined with them. 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 coworkers, 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 that the Corinthians did would also reflect on Paul and his ministry, and vice versa.

And you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (nrsv) If the Corinthians were Paul's letter of recommendation, then this letter was from Jesus Christ himself. This emphasizes that Paul's authority as an apostle came from Jesus. Christ himself had confronted Paul on the road to Damascus and had commissioned him as an apostle and an evangelist (see Acts 9:1-20). Paul's heavenly commission was also confirmed by the apostles in Jerusalem and eventually by the elders at the church at Antioch, who had sent him and Barnabas to evangelize the Gentiles (see Acts 9:26-28; 13:1-2). For the Corinthians' benefit, Paul underscored his divine calling. Although Paul had reputable Christians who would stand behind him and recommend him, he did not emphasize that fact. In contrast to the false teachers at Corinth, Paul's ministry was authorized by Jesus. Paul's letter of recommendation had been written by Christ himself.

This "letter" of Christ had been delivered by Paul and his coworkers; they were messengers for God and his glorious Good News of salvation. It was written by the Spirit of the living God (the Holy Spirit) on the hearts and lives of those who believed. The Holy Spirit, who was working in the Corinthians' hearts and was a guarantee of the Corinthians' glorious inheritance in heaven, affirmed the authenticity of Paul's message.

Next, Paul compared this letter from Christ written on the Corinthians' hearts to the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. Paul's point is clear: The signs of the Spirit's work in a person's life are superior to any kind of writing, whether it was a church's recommendation or the law of God etched on stone (see Exodus 31:18).

The imagery of writing on tablets of human hearts comes from the prophet Ezekiel. This Old Testament prophet had predicted that one day God himself would remove Israel's heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, a heart that would follow God's decrees because God himself had written his law on it:

And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 nlt)

"But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day," says the Lord. "I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33 nlt)