A Letter of Christ
"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for 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." (2Cor 3: 2-3).
It was the practice in the early church that itinerant teachers would bring with them letters of commendation from the various congregations they had visited or from a well-known leading Christian minister. These served to validate and authenticate their ministry and thus were used as a type of referral and stamp of endorsement.
In the case of the apostle Paul, who was placed in the uncomfortable situation of having to defend his apostleship from those who were maligning him personally and challenging his claims to be an apostle, he makes a plain and unpretentious statement. In effect he is saying to these Corinthians; "You want proof of my apostolic authority and evidence of the genuineness of my claims? Just look around among yourselves. You are here today serving Christ Jesus because of my ministry. I am your father in the faith. It was I who first brought the gospel to you. Look at the results my ministry has produced among yourselves. Look at your changed lives. Look at the new and altogether different manner in which you view the world around you. Look at how "old things have passed away and all things have become new" for you. Look at how you rejoice in the cross and love Him who died upon it. What else could have produced such a profound change in you except the power of the risen Christ whose messenger I am? I need no such letters of recommendation from anyone to you of all people. You are my letter of recommendation!"
Yet Paul does not stop here but goes on to make a statement which is quite profound when it is properly reflected upon. He tells those Corinthian believers that they are "a letter of Christ". Have you ever contemplated the repercussions of this statement? Have you ever seriously thought of yourself in this manner? If not, then perhaps the following reasons can serve to encourage you to begin doing so.
Consider for a moment the phrase, "letter of Christ" and how Paul was applying it to these believers. They stood in the midst of one of the most wicked cities in the ancient pagan world. Even by all accounts of the pagan writers of the day, Corinth was unsurpassed as a place where the lusts of the flesh were given free rein. So notorious was Corinth’s reputation as a place of debauchery and licentious activities that the phrase "to Corinthianize" someone meant to corrupt them by leading them into loose and wanton behavior. Now, in the very heart of this evil city, Christ Jesus had raised up a testimony to the power of the gospel to transform lives. These early Christians then were like luminaries in the midst of the darkness of their society. Their transformed lives were to be shining examples of the character and nature of the risen Christ who had redeemed them from sin and was even now conforming them to His own image and likeness. In other words, when their pagan neighbors and friends observed these Corinthian believers, they were to gain an understanding of the character of the God whom they worshipped.
This is one of the motives Paul uses to address the various sinful practices that were going on in this church and why these things were incompatible with a profession of faith. Paul is telling them that they need to be mindful of the representation of Christ that they are portraying to the world around them. Their quarreling amongst themselves, their angry tempers, their slanders, their gossips, their jealousy (chapter 12:20), were being read by all of Corinth. Their sinful conduct would misrepresent the very nature and character of the God they claimed to be worshipping. In short, they needed to be mindful that they might be bearing a witness to Christ, but it would be a false one! Their conduct could be interpreted to read that Christ Jesus was a minister of sin and condoned it!
The same truth holds true for all of us today who bear the name of Christ before men. Our lives give forth a continual witness, or letter if you please, for better or for worse. When those in the world observe us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ fighting like cats and dogs in our marriage, what kind of image of Christ and His gospel do you think they are forming? When they see us breaking our promises and commitments and failing to honor the words that come out of our mouths, what kind of idea is being created in their minds concerning Jesus? When they see Christian women, or for that matter, Christian men, dressed in provocative clothing what image of Christ is formed? When they see our children out of control, without any discipline or manners, what do you think they are "reading" in our "letter"? When they hear us telling lewd and off-color jokes, what do they think of our gospel? When they see people in the same church waging verbal warfare and slandering and maligning one another, what do you think their concept of Christian holiness is?
This list could obviously go on and on. The point is that bearing the name of Christ Jesus before men is no slight matter. In this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes the following:
"For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2Cor 5: 10).
Suppose for a moment that you claimed to be the relative of an eminent person, perhaps the ruler of small country. You then went about telling everyone with whom you came in contact about your close relationship with this ruler. Let’s further suppose you began to spread lies and falsehoods about this ruler and completely misrepresented his true character. What do you suppose this ruler would do to you when he discovered your treachery?
In the same manner will the Lord Jesus deal with all those who have "profaned His name" before men. Listen to the language of the prophet Ezekiel as he declares the Word of the Lord concerning this issue to His ancient people:
"When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord; yet they have come out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in your midst." (Ezek 36: 20-23).
The God of heaven does not lightly take having His name profaned and His character misrepresented by those who call themselves His people. He made this quite clear long ago when He gave His holy law on Sinai.
"You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." (Exod 20:7).
Most people think that this commandment only has to do with using the Lord’s name in a light or frivolous manner, particularly in cursing. That is no doubt true, but that is limiting the extent of this commandment. To take the name of the Lord in vain also includes taking His name upon yourself in a vain or frivolous manner. In other words, claiming to belong to God all the while conducting oneself in such a fashion that gives the lie to that profession is a direct violation of this commandment. We can glean this from the words of Agur in Proverbs, chapter 30. There we find a prayer of this man of God recorded for our instruction:
"Two things I have asked of Thee, do not refuse me before I die: keep lies and deception far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, '‘Who is the Lord?'’ Or lest I be in want and steal and profane the name of my God.""(Proverbs 30: 7-9).
Pay close attention to the reason that Agur is asking for a sufficient portion of his daily bread. He is saying that if he is hungry and has no food, he may be tempted to steal in order to provide for himself. Such an action would be profaning the name of God since Agur has laid claim to belonging to the God of Israel. Such conduct is unbecoming in one who serves a holy and righteous God and would serve only to misrepresent the true nature and character of Jehovah. It is clear that this godly man was moved by a strong desire to not disgrace His heavenly Father nor bring shame upon His great name. He did not want to give any of the enemies of Israel an opportunity to blaspheme His God.
One more passage in Scripture to buttress our point. After David committed his great sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, the prophet Nathan is sent on a divine errand to prophesy to him. Once again notice the serious nature of the charge that is brought against him as it concerns the name of God.
"However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also born to you shall surely die." (2Sam 12:14).
David, the man after God’s own heart, had literally profaned the name of the Lord by his deed and would not escape the consequences. All of the nations that surrounded Israel, the very ones that he had conquered, knew of David’s devotion to his God. He made no secret of the One to whom all his triumphs were due. How they would use the occasion of his sin to blaspheme and mock both him and His God! This was far too serious of a thing to be overlooked. God had to punish David openly for all to see that He did not approve of such a deed and in no way could He sanction such a thing among His people, especially the ruler.
The point in all this should be crystal clear by now. All of us who bear the name of Christ before men have a solemn responsibility to live in such a fashion that we do not discredit or shame the Lord Jesus either in word or in deed. Beloved, one thing is certain. The Most High God will not leave him unpunished who profanes His holy name! If He does not vindicate His name upon them in this life, He will certainly do so in the next! No one can sin with impunity by taking His glorious name in vain by "professing to know God, by their deeds they deny Him" (Titus 1:16).
In light of the above, what kind of letter of Christ are you? Does your life, your conduct, your speech, your mannerism, testify truly of the nature and character of the One whom you claim to serve? If people were to read your "letter" would they be able to say of you and of your God that which the apostle Peter says:
""But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2: 9).
"Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, the may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation". (1 Peter 2: 12).
Are you adorning the doctrine of your God (Titus 2:10)? Is the sincere desire of your heart to honor the God who has saved you? Are you careful to watch over your speech and your conduct so as to avoid anything that might dishonor or shame Him? Or is your "letter" one of a false and misleading witness? Ask the Lord Christ to speak to your heart by His Spirit and to truly set the case before your eyes.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
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