Living Letters

Hope for Today (English)
Hope for Today (English)
Living Letters
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II Cor. 3:1-6 

Thanks for joining us on Hope for Today, we are honored to be here and so glad you chose to be there. Recently we received this testimony from one of our listeners, “Through the program, I have learned a lot but one thing that remains in my heart is that despite what we are undergoing in our daily life, it is good to put our hope and trust in God.”  

We completely agree, only God is big enough for your hope and trust. Putting your hope or trust in anything besides Him will be a letdown. We were encouraged by this testimony, and it was a good reminder for us. 

Our lesson today is taken from II Corinthians 3 and the title is Living Letters. J Mark is here now for today’s lesson.   

Letter writing is a dying art in our digital age. If you’ve ever received a handwritten letter, you know how special it makes you feel. There’s a personal investment in a handwritten letter that’s missing in electronic forms of communication.  

I’m glad that God revealed His Word to holy men of old as the apostle Peter tells us. As they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, they wrote down His message. And so, today, you and I have access to the Word of God in written form. The apostle Paul tells us this Word of God is for our benefit and to equip us for every good work.    

So, we turn our attention to the Word of God again today to discover some of that benefit and to learn how it better equips us to serve the Lord. Our text is Second Corinthians 3:1 to 6. Listen carefully as I read and see if you can pick out the benefits we receive from letters. 

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,  

6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 

“Living Letters” is the subject of our text, and today we explore the VALUE we give and receive through those letters.   

The First VALUE of Living Letters is, 

They Provide Information 

Why do you write a letter? You have ideas you want to communicate to the person or persons receiving the letter. When my wife and I were dating we wrote letters to each other. We still have them, and occasionally we’ll get them out and reread them. Through them, we communicated our interest in each other and our growing love story.  

Let’s pause here to review some background. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and he’s defending his apostolic authority.  

Paul talks about letters of commendation or recommendation. I understand this was a common practice of that day. One example is Acts 18:27. There, the Ephesian elders wrote a letter of recommendation for Apollos to carry to Achaia. A letter of recommendation said that the bearer of the letter was trustworthy and should be treated accordingly.  

Today, we call this a referral letter. When you apply for a new job, you can ask your former employer for a letter of recommendation. It tells your new employer your strengths and weaknesses and how you may be an asset in your new workplace. It would be strange for you to write your referral letter, but Paul feels forced to do it by his critics.  

Paul’s critics wondered where his letters of recommendation were. It seems that some false teachers in Corinth forged letters from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem so they would have authority in the church.  

Paul asks “Do I need letters of recommendation for you to accept me? Or do you need to provide letters of recommendation for me to other churches? No, of course not. You yourselves are our letter of recommendation. You’re written on our hearts!”  

In other words, Paul said “If you want a letter of recommendation, just look at the impact of our ministry in Corinth! The existence of the church is proof of our divinely approved and faithful ministry.” A changed life is a living letter of recommendation.  

There’s a saying, “Your life is the only Bible some people will ever read.” Many will never pick up a printed copy of the Bible, but they will see its truth being lived out in your life! Has anyone ever asked you what’s different about you?  

Your life is a living letter. What kind of information does it give to those who observe your lifestyle choices and the way you respond to the circumstances of daily living?   

Another VALUE of Living Letters is, 

They Provide Explanation 

The opening of a letter often starts with an overview of the main idea. Then, later in the letter, the idea is explained in more detail. Paul elaborates on what he means by calling the Corinthian Believers living letters. He says, “You are a letter of Christ written by the Spirit of God through our ministry.” 

The Holy Spirit, through the ministry of Paul and his team, brought about a transformation in the lives of the converts. That transformation was undeniable proof that documented the work of Christ in their lives! It still works that way today. If we are genuinely converted, we can’t hide the results. People will see the difference.  

The reason this is true is that, as Paul says, the Spirit of God writes the person and character of Christ on our hearts. When something is written in our hearts, that means we have a conviction or belief that is based on our inward experience. The truth engages our conscience and is empowered by the Holy Spirit; it enables us to make godly choices. 

He contrasts the Mosaic Law, which was engraved on stone, with the law of Christ which is engraved on our hearts. At the time when we allow the Holy Spirit by faith to engrave the work of Christ on our hearts, we become a letter of Christ to the world around us.  

The Mosaic Law was engraved on stone by the finger of God. It revealed the requirements He put in place for His people to approach Him in His holiness. But according to the biblical record, that engraving didn’t make it from the stone tablets to the hearts of the people. Because it was an external law it only exposed sin, it didn’t have the power to bring about life change.  

Now, the Corinthians whose lives had been transformed by the power of Christ became, as it were, an engraving to those around them. The indelible imprint of Christ was on them, and people could see it.  

Notice verse 4, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” Paul is appealing to the Corinthian Believers through his confidence in Christ. Despite their weaknesses and divisions, there was evidence of Christ’s presence in them. As their spiritual father, he is deeply concerned about their spiritual well-being, but he realizes that ultimately, the person and power of Christ will bring about life change.  

We too need to remember that all Believers are on a journey. We’re not all at the same level of maturity. Just because someone is immature doesn’t mean they’re not a Believer. We need to learn to be patient with them just as others were patient with us.  

Does your life letter explain to the world what has happened inside you through Jesus? What level of spiritual maturity does it reveal?  

A Final VALUE of Living Letters is, 

They Provide Affirmation 

A few years ago, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to write letters to people who had a major impact on my life as a young man. I thanked them for the time and energy they invested in my life and for their patience with me in my immaturity.  

I learned later that one of those who received my letter was going through a time of much discouragement. My letter encouraged them and affirmed the value of their ministry. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to do that for them too.  

When I study Scripture, I watch for things that are emphasized by repetition. In just three verses, Paul uses the same word, or a variation, four times! You’ll find it in chapter two, verse sixteen, and here in our text, verses five and six. KJV translates it as sufficient, or able. It could also be translated as adequate. It includes the idea of being able or competent.  

As Believers, our confidence shouldn’t rest in our adequacy for being a living letter. If we feel we’re sufficient to serve the Lord with our talents and abilities, we are only kidding ourselves.  

Our sufficiency, ability, or competence is from God! You and I don’t have the power to bring about life change; only God can do that. Paul says that God made us competent ministers of a new covenant that was inaugurated by Jesus Christ. That means that God has equipped you and me for the work of sharing the Gospel. As we acknowledge Him and serve under His inspiration, He makes our service fruitful in His kingdom.   

Paul also contrasts the letter and the spirit. He says the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. If you had a choice to serve and promote one of these, which would you choose?  

The old covenant reminded those under it that they could never live up to it. It made heavy demands but provided no inner power to live in obedience. It punished disobedience but gave no power to obey. That’s the record of what we call the Old Testament.  

In contrast, the new covenant is a living power. Instead of attempting to suppress sinful behavior through the threat of punishment, it brings about change within us. That change sets us free from the controlling passions of his flesh. It provides the desire and the power to live in obedience to Christ, the One who sets us free. And in that way, it gives life, abundant life!  

Have you experienced the reality of the new covenant? Has your life been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit living in you? If so, then you are a living letter bringing the information, explanation, and affirmation of the abundant life to those who are watching you. May God continue to write your living letter for His glory!  

Thanks, J Mark for this teaching from God’s Word, and thank you for being there. We believe God’s people are supposed to read the Bible and allow it to affect their lives. The teaching in the Bible is for us and we are supposed to live it out. Thanks, J Mark, for giving us some practical ways for us to do exactly that.   

If you would like a copy of today’s teaching just let us know, and we will get it to you in any form you would like, just contact us, and ask for it by title. You can contact us via our website heraldsofhope.org. On our website, you can find other similar teaching, so please look around while you are there. Again, the website is heraldsofhope.org. Another way to contact us is via email, our email is [email protected]. You can also write to us; a pencil and paper don’t need electricity or data. Our address is Hope for Today, Box 3 Breezewood, Pennsylvania 15533. We would love to hear from you.   

  Thanks again for -joining us, Lord willing next week we will be together for another lesson from II Corinthians. I leave you with Paul’s parting words from this book, “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  

*This episode is an exposition by J. Otis Yoder, re-recorded by J. Mark Horst, with an opening and closing by Arlin Horst. 

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