You are a Letter of Christ
The apostle Paul had planted the church at Corinth in Achaia. He had come to this southern city in Greece and boldly preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 18). He stayed in the city full of idols and temples for eighteen months. The Corinthian church sadly assimilated the prevailing culture. After his departure, Paul repeatedly wrote to answer their questions and to encourage them to practice the Christian faith in a worthy manner.
Between his first and second canonical letters, some number of teachers had joined with the Corinthian church and had questioned Paul’s apostolic authority. It was the custom for traveling teachers to carry with them apostolic letters to confirm them as trustworthy teachers. These were called, “letters of commendation.” Paul had come to Corinth on his second missionary journey, and he had no letters with him. The church had come into being under his preaching ministry. This was reason enough for the church to accept Paul, but the arguments against him were persuasive.
Paul was forced to boast about his ministry to those who were working against him. To self-promote was unsavory in the culture of the Greeks, where rhetoric, especially by popular traveling teachers, was big business. Paul knew this fact, but he needed to defend his apostolic status. Thus, he apologized for being less than demure. More important to him, in losing favor with the church by playing into the hand of his loquacious accusers, was the promotion of Christ and the Gospel message.
Self-promotion is a challenge in today’s ministry environment, too. Both true and false preachers use their names to promote themselves and their multi-million-dollar enterprises. The apostle Paul was in a competitive oratory environment, but today’s media frenzy is like nothing the church has ever experienced. The whole world is vying for the whole world’s attention. The voice of today’s preacher is still a voice crying in the wilderness of verbosity.
Although competing for peoples’ attention is more difficult than ever before. God has not changed His Word. There are no direct revelations. In addition, He has not changed the method by which people are saved. The Word of God has always been preached to people, and it will be preached to people until Jesus Christ comes again in glory. Salvation comes by hearing God’s Word preached, and nothing else.
In addition to competition for peoples’ attention, we also have more access to more free information. Free and accessible does not always mean better. Like the wheat and tares growing up together in the same field, so will the enemy always find a way to present falsehood next to truth. We have better access to truth than ever before, and for this we can be glad. Still, those who are learning Christ struggle immensely to sift through truth and lies.
Just as Paul faced opposition from those in the church at Corinth, so there are those who create trouble for true Gospel preachers, today. While Paul was in prison, there were those who were preaching the Gospel simply to spite him. He was as unmoved by others preaching Christ, regardless of their specious motives.
Moses was also unmoved when the tattlers came to him with the spirit to rebuke those who were prophesying in the camp of the Israelites. John the Baptist shared the same immovable heart when confronted with Jesus Christ being competition for his preaching ministry. John gave the classic, humble response, “He must increase, and I must decrease (Jn 3:30).”
Competition in the ministry is foofaraw. We need each other, as iron sharpens iron. The Gospel is to be preached to all creation (Mk 16:15) and taken to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Ephesians became zealous in protecting themselves against false apostles, but they forgot their first love (Rev 2:2–4). A good team must have both, an effective offense and defense. Making Christ, and Him crucified, known to all nations is our commission, and we need more preachers. Preachers surface from the pool of gifted disciples, who have the Word of God burning in their bones (Jer 20:9). They share Paul’s sentiment, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:16).”
The more distracted a church is with extra-curricular activities, the less preaching there will be. Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, the church which minimizes preaching is only hindering the instrument God has given to increase faith and to add faithful ones (Rom 10:14–17). How do you make a disciple? You sanctify him with the truth. Where is the truth to be found but in the preaching of the Word, which sanctifies the saint under the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2).
Paul argued to the Corinthians, for the superior ministry the New Testament affords those who are sent as letters of Christ (2 Cor 3:1–3). The Old Testament had a certain glory, but it is surpassed by the glory of Christ. The Law held a certain magnification of light in the world, but now the Gospel light is shining like the noon day sun. Paul was shining, but the darkness did not comprehend him, either.
The culture insisted on letters of recommendation. Paul did not bother with this cultural norm when it came to the Gospel. He saw, he went, he preached. Paul was not offensive for the sake of being offensive, but he offended people, nonetheless. Paul ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, who had made him adequate as a servant of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:5).
True Gospel preachers are humbled by this recognition of ministry being all of God. When he preached, the apostle Paul was aware of those who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ was building His church through His weak vessel, even in the midst of opposition.
True Gospel preachers use great boldness in their speech because of their privileged vantage point to the work of God’s Spirit. They preach Christ (1 Cor 2:2; Col 1:28), and the conversion of a sinner into a saint becomes a marvelous event. The growing of a disciple into a mature Christian is elongated, but there is joy for the one who invested time, resources, and teaching into the soul of another being sanctified. Like a money-gram, we are sending the unfathomable riches of Christ to loved ones.
The Corinthians were Paul’s letter of commendation. He preached to them. He counseled with them. He wrote to them. They were a very flawed group, but he never gave up on them, even when they were giving up on him. These Corinthians were walking testimonies of the power of God to radically transform vile sinners into growing saints. The irony of their becoming Paul’s opponents is epic. He poured his life into them, while they debated on whether he was a threat to them. It would all be so tragic if we did not have the knowledge of providence.
Christ authors the story of His people. He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2). It is the Spirit of the living God who is at work in the regenerated human heart (2 Cor 3:6), like ink on a page. Each Christian is like a pen in the author’s hand and filled with the Spirit. Every ministry we engage is like another letter sent. The faith we have received from others is their letter to us. We pass along what we have received. We are sending our faith to others. Other Christians grow with each letter we send. They become our letters of commendation.
All of this was foreseen by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:33) and the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 36:26). The promise of the Spirit writing the Law on the hearts of all of God’s people commenced on the day of Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 2). The Father and the Son sent the Spirit to fill God’s people (ink in a pen). Christ picks up the pen and pours forth his Spirit into others by writing letters to their hearts. In a proverbial way, when the author of a letter “pours out her heart,” she becomes the letter.
This is a ministry of righteousness abounding toward glory (2 Cor 3:9). Jesus Christ is the Lord, our righteousness. He was the incarnate Word of God come into the world (Jn 1:14). God sent a love letter to His people. Christ is that letter. It is the Word of God in us that makes us letters of Christ.
The Word is witnessed as our testimonies prove His faithfulness to His promises to us. As the Spirit of Christ manifests in the life of the believer, we are able to say to the world, “See, His Word is true.” We preach what we believe in our hearts. We are sent out like a letter. Christ is inscribed on our hearts, and out of our mouths comes what is on our hearts.
The glory of this New Covenant ministry is unrivaled. Moses veiled his face, but we shout from the rooftops. The more we shine, the more trouble there is in the domain of darkness. Paul was opposed everywhere he went. He suffered many hardships for the sake of the elect (2 Tim 2:10), but he pressed on toward the mark of the high calling he had received from Christ (Phil 3:14). This was the stewardship entrusted to him, for which he was accountable, and for which he needed to remain faithful (1 Cor 4:2). By God’s grace, Paul persevered through every obstacle and opposition pitted against him. The world was against him, and the world had infiltrated the church, which made life difficult for the great apostle.
We have learned from Paul to prioritize the Gospel ministry. There is much distraction. We must preach Christ. Opposition from the world is expected, but opposition from the worldly church is disheartening. Still, Paul wrote love letters to the Corinthians. He was bold with them because the Gospel ministry was at stake. Corinth loved its political intrigue, which only created factions. Paul was a letter of Christ sent to the church at Corinth. He poured out the Word of God into them, and each believer among them became a letter of Christ. In a very real sense, we are still reading their letters, today. We call it, “the faith of our fathers.”
Many Christians, through your lifetime, have written something of Christ upon your heart. That collective letter is to be shared with others. You may encounter diverse oppositions or garrulous gossips. These did not stop Jesus, and they did not stop Paul. They have never stopped the messengers of Christ Jesus in any era. You have His story, so there is more to your story. Enjoy your missionary ministry, on the circuit of His choosing. You are stamped with His commendation. This is my letter to you, so be encouraged as He sends you out, today. Remember who you are…you are a letter of Christ.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 17, 2021