2 Corinthians 3.1-3

Title: Standing Firm

Text: 2 Corinthians 3.1-3

CIT: Paul stands firm in the face of his critics. He states that his work among them has given him the credibility he needs.

CIS: We should stand firm, too. Our lives should communicate our credibility. Our hearts reveal our passion.

Introduction: The Church of England has voted recently to ordain women as Bishops. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, has an excellent article on this latest move by Anglicans. It has been a natural progression. Once they voted to ordain women as priests, it was only a natural move to ordain them as bishops. The Church of England has had tremendous pressure to conform to English culture and society at large.

Mohler says that this move has brought a sense of accomplishment to the English government; However, it isn’t enough. Mohler writes: Ruth Gledhill is profoundly right about another aspect of Monday’s vote as well. It won’t stop with women bishops. “Now the church can move into the 20th century, although perhaps not the 21st,” she wrote. “A change on gay marriage would be needed to do that.” Well, stay tuned, as they say. The same church now has bishops living and teaching in open defiance of the church’s law on sexuality as well.

But what does this mean for them? Mohler continues as he says that their decision…will leave conservative evangelicals in the Church of England increasingly out in the cold, despite all the talk of “mutual flourishing.”

I have a friend who retired from the ministry, rather than face the struggle ahead. This man was a godly, wise, conservative Episcopalian priest. He’s faced the struggle for years against an openly gay leadership in the church. For Episcopalians or Anglicans who leave their denomination, they lose their property. They lose everything that they’ve built through the years. And, Judges have continued to side with the denomination in the courts. If you as a church disagree with the denomination, at this stage, all you can do is walk away and leave everything you’ve worked to build to them. If you’re a pastor, your choices are hard. Trying to lead the church to do the right thing will no doubt lead to church splits. How many people are married to facilities and not to the church? Standing firm in such times takes a tremendous toll on a man. After years of struggle, my friend retired early.

Though quite different, Paul was facing a similar dilemma in Corinth. There was a split over and against him. What could Paul do when his people were at odds over his ministry? Obviously there were some problems here: rd v 1; Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?

Here, we see two types of commendations: (in Gk, basically synonymous)

  • Self-commendations (1st question): When Paul arrived in Corinth the 1st time, he led people to the Lord, saw baptisms and a church planted. There were no believers there to which he should take letters of commendation! So he had to commend himself. That’s why he says: again. He didn’t come with 3rd party recommendations.
  • Third party commendations (2nd question): rd v 1b; Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

Who are these Some? Probably, it refers to the many peddling the Word of God in 2.17.  These people came after Paul – they needed 3rd party recommendations – letters from their churches to the people in Corinth. It appears that these super-apostles, these opponents of Paul, had letters of recommendation to the people of Corinth. And Paul, he had none. Think about that for a moment. Why would that be? Why would they have letters and Paul didn’t? There was no church in Corinth to which he should take letters of commendation! The Church, these super-apostles brought their letters of recommendation to, didn’t exist when Paul got to Corinth! He planted and established it!

Transition: Now, at this stage, Paul presents his main and only point, as if to say: you want a letter of recommendation? You’re Our Letter of recommendation!

  • You’re Our Letter of recommendation written on our hearts!
  • You’re Our Letter of recommendation written on our hearts from Christ!
  • You’re Our Letter of recommendation written on our hearts from Christ penned with the Holy Spirit!

And the way I’m going to present this in outline form is:

  1. You are our letter of recommendation
    1. Written on
    2. Written from
    3. Written with

Transition: So let’s begin with Paul’s main and only point…

I.     You are our letter of recommendation (2)

exp.: rd v2a; if someone wanted information about me, I’d refer them to you. I first give them the elder’s contact number, including Jason Hall. 2nd, I’d give the staff info and then finally, the deacons – and maybe the church directory. You’re my letter of recommendation. You know my service. Some of you can even go back to the days when I was an associate and led worship. Just curious, how many of you’ve been here longer than me? Look at all those I’ve been a part of reaching! 😉

            Paul says to the Corinthians – you are our letter! Written on our hearts…

 

     1.   Written on (2b)

exp.: So one facet or characteristic about this letter that they are, is that it was written on our hearts; now you would think that on our hearts implies an internal dimension; you can’t see someone’s heart. At least you would think that.

 

ill.: I saw an interesting article about Google glass. They’re here, but people don’t like them. Actually, people love them – they think they’re a really cool technological advancement. What they don’t like is anyone else wearing them. Google glasses are a pair of glasses you wear that act like your smart phone or ipad. You can call, text, Skype, circle or fb, use gps, take pictures, you can video, etc.

The problem is that people don’t like others wearing google glasses. Someone can be sitting across from you on a bus or subway or even a restaurant and take pictures and video. They can even use recognition software and download all the information available about you on the Internet!

Some good uses are out there. A surgeon recently removed a tumor during abdominal surgery while wearing Google glasses. He was able to see what he was doing but also looked at the live mri images at the same time. Think about the possibilities: to see your heart and into your heart with mri imagary, without even opening you up.

Transition: Obviously, that’s not what Paul is talking about. He means that your heart is seen by your life – your actions. Look at how a letter written on our hearts is understood – rd 2b;

  • Known by all
  • Read by all

ill.: I love this concept as it’s applied to me – you are my letter of recommendation – written on my heart. But it isn’t quietly hiding there. No, everyone is able to read it 

app.:My love for you in my heart is evident to all. I bear my heart for you in such a way that everyone can know it and read it.

Transition: So, Paul says you are our letter of recommendation – a letter that is written on our hearts. And, there is another facet to this letter Paul tells the Corinthians about… He says: You’re Our Letter of recommendation from Christ!

     2.   Written from (3a)

exp.: rd 3a; And you show that you are a letter from Christ, I can’t think of a better reference for a job than Christ, himself!

ill.: We kind of practice this today – this commending men to churches by licensing or ordaining them in our church. We will license men to the ministry as we determine God’s call on their lives. As a young man gets this license, he may travel to another church to serve. That license will communicate our commendation. It will state that we, the undersigned, do recognized God’s call on someone’s life. And, furthermore, we’ve chosen to license them as evidence of our faith in God’s call. That license is our letter of recommendation to wherever and to whoever that young man serves.

exp.: Letters to commend someone often come from a 3rd party, as mentioned in the introduction. Christ commends Paul to the Corinthians. It is an interesting way Paul communicates to the believers in Corinth. You are our letter of recommendation from Christ!

ill.: As I was studying and looking for passages of Scripture related to this text, I searched for a place where known and read were near each other (2b). I found it in Daniel. Turn to Daniel 5; There is a story where A king has this huge party and breaks out the gold cups from the Temple – that his father took when they sacked Jerusalem and the Temple. They took the valuable gold and silver as spoils of war. While drinking and partying with all of his guests and using the utensils of the Temple, a human hand appears and begins writing on the wall. The king summons all of his wise men (the Magi) to see if they can read the message and know what it means. Of course, many of you know the story: they fail. But the queen tells the king about Daniel.

And so, Daniel is called in to see the king to read a message from God and make it known to the King. Rd Daniel 5.13-16; I thought there were some interesting parallels to this passage.

The king is given a message from God, himself. I thought of Christ when I read this story in Daniel. A human hand doing the writing:Christ is God in the flesh. Daniel is summoned to deliver this message from God.

exp.: and this also parallels what Paul is writing; rd v 3a – this letter of recommendation is delivered by us! That word delivered in the Gk is the word from which we get deacon. It means to minister or serve. I hope you’ve never experienced this, but I’m sure you’ve seen it on tv or in the movies – You’ve been served! Same idea.

app.: and you can see how this relates, as Paul served them – he ministered to them. His heart was made visible, as it were, through his service and love for them.

Transition: And then Paul presents this one final facet of the this letter of recommendation… it’s written on our hearts, it’s written from Christ and 3rd, it’s written with, not ink, but the Holy Spirit of God.

     3.   Written with (3b)

exp.: rd 3b; the Spirit of the Living God. This echoes the Daniel story, too. The inscription isn’t something written with ink or even carved into stone. No, it’s written with the Holy Spirit. That’s a pretty deep concept. Personalize that for a moment. If you’ve ever surrendered your life to Christ, he writes upon your heart with the Holy Spirit. You’re sealed, as Paul says in Ephesians.

ill.: R. Kent Hughes has a wonderful illustration in his commentary. Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the first surgeon ever to do a heart transplant, impulsively asked one of his patients, Dr. Philip Blaiberg,

“Would you like to see your old heart?” At 8 p.m. on a subsequent evening, the men stood in a room of the Groote Schuur Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr. Barnard went up to a cupboard, took down a glass container and handed it to Dr. Blaiberg. Inside that container was Blaiberg’s old heart. For a moment he stood there stunned into silence—the first man in history ever to hold his own heart in his hands. Finally he spoke and for ten minutes plied Dr. Barnard with technical questions. Then he turned to take a final look at the contents of the glass container, and said, “So this is my old heart that caused me so much trouble.”

He handed it back, turned away and left it forever.

This is a window into what Christ does. We remain the same people, but our hearts become radically new.

app.:Paul is referencing Jeremiah 31.31-33: 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Transition: certain members of the Corinthian Church had harshly criticized Paul. But he could stand in the face of their criticism because his conscience was clear, he had been obedient to Christ in Paul’s service to the Corinthians. Furthermore, Paul had no need to commend himself to them again and he had no need for letters of recommendation from other churches. Their very existence was evidence of Paul’s credibility. They were his credentials. They were his letter of recommendation. 

Observations & Implications:

  1. I stand before you today and think for myself – that you are my letter of recommendation. We’ve seen some hard times, but my passion for you is evident in my presence. Hopefully that doesn’t make sense to some of you, for you see a healthy church. But for those who’ve been here for 10 years or more – you know. That may sound like bragging, but it’s not. I can think of no other way to express my love for you than my loyalty through the hardest of times. My obedience to Christ has been the foundation. He has called me and with integrity I can say, I have stayed and served. You are my letter of commendation.
  2. What about for you? How does this apply? Our hearts, though hidden from physical sight, are often seen through our actions. Based on your actions, what would people say is your passion? For many of you, I can see that Calvary is a letter of recommendation for you, too. You’ve stayed the course, you’ve been faithful and obedient in your service to Christ. That’s powerful!
    1. Some of you may be saying: what’s he talking about? The church has problems? Many years ago she did, but the health you are experiencing now it the fruit of the faithful. And for that, you have been faithful are to be commended!
    2. Oh, she’s not perfect. We’ve still got a lot to do, but by God’s grace and leadership, we shall continue on our journey of sanctification.
  3. Maybe you’re sitting there today and think you’d like to become part of the faithful. You’re thinking to yourself that God may be calling you to roll up your sleeves and join these people in their work. You’ve dated the church for a while, but you’ve never married her. Church membership is simple.
  • You must be a Christian

            i.     You’re committing your life to him today

           ii.     You have in the past and you want to move your membership. 

  • You must formally request to join – that is, you simply come forward during the invitation and ask.
  • You must attend a New Member’s Class. It’s so called, because it describes in great detail who we are and what we believe. Our next class will be presented by the elders in September. Usually the 3rd weekend.
  • Submit to an interview with an elder. I hate that word interview, but no one has come up with a better title. Here’s what it means: you’ve gotten to know us through attendance and participation. You’ve learned about us through our New Member’s class. We want to hear from you: what are your passions and gifts? Where do you see yourself serving in the body? What has your spiritual journey been like? This is your chance to tell us all about you. Up to this point, we’ve done all the talking about who we are. We just want to hear from you.
  1. What kind of heart condition do you have? Is it a hard heart, like stone? Has it hardened through bitterness and resentment? Has it been beaten and abused by others. Have you tucked it away, not willing to ever let anyone break your heart again? Christ wants to give you a new heart – a soft and tender one. He can take your old one and replace it with a new one. You can trust him. 
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