Text: 2 Corinthians 3:1-3

When a person applies for a scholarship, he may be required to submit a letter of recommendation. A similar letter may also be required when a person is in consideration for promotion within a company. This letter attests that the person is of good character and aptitude, and thus worthy of receiving the scholarship or promotion.

In the 1st century A.D., letters of recommendation are often given to Christian pilgrims to prove that they are honest and worthy of reception by the churches. The Apostle Paul apparently lacked such letters. These caused the opponents of Paul to question his credentials. Furthermore, these accusers had strings of (likely deceptive) certificates and credentials to back them up. Paul seemed nothing compared to them.

In response, Paul said that there is no need for him to have such letters of recommendation. The Corinthians should know better. God had used the Apostle Paul to establish the Corinthian Church (Acts 8). Was there really any need for him to reintroduce himself to the Corinthians? They had seen how Paul conducted himself in a godly fashion from the very beginning.

Moreover, the Corinthians themselves were living proofs that Paul was a genuine minister of the gospel. Their lives were transformed by the gospel of Christ which Paul preached. Such fleshly and living epistles of the transforming power of the gospel are worth much more than letters engraved in stone or written in ink. The Corinthian Christians themselves are thus “the epistle of Christ… written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God” (v.3) and this far outweighs any paper recommendation.

On the other hand, there may be many in Christendom who have strings of theological degrees, but nothing in true spirituality and godliness. We must not be like these men. The commendation that matters is from God. Read 1 Corinthians 4:4-5.

THOUGHT: Genuine spirituality or worthless certificates?
PRAYER: Lord, how I long to hear Thy commendation!

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

The false accusers of Paul were boastful men who were quick to trumpet their own credentials. Their trust is in their strength and intellect. They are men who draw away disciples to themselves and not to Christ. (Acts 20:30)

On the other hand, Paul’s trust is not in the arm of flesh but in His Saviour. He was quick to give all glory to God for the successes in the gospel ministry. Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to know that this success is not due to himself, nor his intellect, but wholly of God. Salvation is of the Lord. (Jon. 2:9) Paul preached the gospel, but God was the one who wrought salvation to the souls in Corinth by the Holy Spirit. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6)

In fact, the work of the Lord was often fraught with much stress, danger and pain for the Apostle Paul. He had to face much labour, suffering and persecution, sometimes even to the despairing of his life. (2 Cor. 1:9) It would not have been possible for Paul to endure the ministry if God had not sustained him by His grace.

It is often easy to let success get into our heads. Instead of acknowledging the Lord, we rely on our own strength to pull us through. Being deceived by our pride, we think that all is well in our life, but everything we do is in vain, for we have failed to give God the glory. No work is acceptable before the Lord if it is not done in Christ, no matter how beautiful it may appear in the eyes of man.

Men who rely on their own strength will find the arduousness of life and service too much for them. Some compromise with worldly methods and philosophies to help them out of their predicament. Others wallow in selfpity in their refusal to turn to God for help. If only they would turn to Christ, they would find in Him their sufficiency. Without Christ we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

THOUGHT: What is your trust in this life?
PRAYER: Lord, may Christ be my trust and refuge.

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Unlike his false accusers, Paul’s reliance was wholly upon God. It was God who made him an able and competent minister of the gospel. Paul walked in the Spirit, obeying God and His Word sincerely from the heart out of love for Christ. As a true minister of the new testament, he was a minister of the Spirit (i.e. serving in the power of the Holy Spirit), thus his ministry for the Lord was one full of power and life.

On the other hand, the false accusers had a false show of piety. Externally, they may appear to be “holy” men, but internally, they are devoid of any spirituality and true love for God. Their “ministry” is like that of the Pharisees, with only an external adherence to the law, yet inwardly they are ravening wolves. They are men who draweth nigh to Christ with their mouths, and honoureth Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. (Matt. 15:8) Thus, their “ministry” of the “letter” was one that was dead and lifeless. It is in this sense that Paul says, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (v.6)

“But when the Holy Spirit subdues the heart of an individual, obedience to the law and fulfilling its true intention are evident (see Rom. 2:27-29). Not the letter but the Spirit changes a person’s heart. We distinguish between an external conformity to the law (the letter) and an internal obedience, through the Spirit, to fulfil the express purpose of the law: to have life.” (Kistemaker)

Herein lies a danger, that there may be those who go to church, thinking that by their attendance and outward adherence to religious duties, all is right with their souls. And yet, they may have never trusted in Christ Jesus. Oh may such men through the hearing of the gospel be truly born again of the Word and of the Spirit!

Let our lives not be a show of religious hypocrisy, but one that is lived sincerely and truthfully in the Holy Spirit.

THOUGHT: Why is religious hypocrisy such an abomination to God?
PRAYER: Lord, help me truly to walk in the spirit.

Yours affectionately
Pastor Clement Chew