2 Corinthians 3:1-5
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, letters of commendation to you…
From the example of the Master Paul had acquired the habit of gliding softly and quickly from a common object of nature to the deep things of grace. The practice of asking and obtaining certificates seems to have been introduced at a very early period into the Christian Church, and already some abuses had crept in along with it. We gather from this epistle that some very well recommended missionaries had been spoiling Paul's work at Corinth. Virtually challenged to exhibit his own certificates, he boldly appeals to those who had been converted through his ministry, and now he glides into a greater thing — Christians are an epistle of Christ. Regarding these epistles, consider —
I. THE MATERIAL WRITTEN ON.
1. Many different substances have been employed in writing; but one feature is common to all — in their natural state they are not fit to be used as writing materials. They must undergo a process of preparation. Even the primitive material of stone must be polished ere the engraving begin. The reeds, and leaves, and skins, too, which were used by the ancients, all needed preparation. So with modern paper, of which rags are the raw material. These are torn into small pieces, washed, cast into a new form, and become a "new creature." A similar process takes place in the preparation of the material for an epistle of Christ. You might as well try to write upon the rubbish from which paper is made as to impress legible evidence for the truth and divinity of the gospel on the life of one who is still "of the earth, earthy."
2. The paper manufacturer is not nice in the choice of his materials. The clean cannot be serviceable without passing through the process, and the unclean can be made serviceable with it. Let no man think he can go into heaven because he is good; but neither let any one fear he will be kept out of it because he is evil.
II. THE WRITING. It is not Christianity printed in the creed, but Christ written in the heart. A person's character may be gathered from his letters. How eagerly the public read those of a great man printed after his death! Our Lord left no letters, yet He has not left Himself without a witness. When He desires to let the world know what He is, He points to Christians. Nay, when He would have the Father to behold His glory, He refers Him to the saved: "I am glorified in them." A Christian merchant goes to India or China. He sells manufactured goods; he buys silk and tea. But all the time he is a living epistle, sent by Christ to the heathen. A Christian boy becomes an apprentice, and is now, therefore, a letter from the Lord to all his shopmates.
III. THE WRITER. "The Spirit of the living God." Some writings are easily rubbed off by rough usage or with age. Only fast colours are truly valuable. The flowers and figures painted upon porcelain are burned in, and therefore cannot be blotted out. No writing on a human spirit is certainly durable except that which the Spirit of God lays on. In conversion there is a sort of furnace through which the new-born pass. In the widespread religious activity of the day some marks are made on the people — not made by the Spirit of God — shown by the event to have been only marks on the surface made by some passing fear or nervous sympathy.
IV. THE PEN. In photography it is the sun that makes the portrait; yet a human hand prepares the plate and adjusts the lens. A similar place is assigned to the ministry of men in the work of the Spirit. Printing nowadays is done by machines which work with a strength and regularity and silence that are enough to strike an onlooker with dismay. Yet even there a watchful human eye and alert human hand axe needed to introduce the paper into the proper place. Agents are needed even under the ministry of the Spirit — needed to watch for souls.
V. THE READERS.
1. The writing is not sealed or locked up in a desk, but exposed all the day to public view. Some who look on the letters are enemies, and some are friends. If an alien see Christ represented in a Christian, he may thereby be turned from darkness to light; but, if he see sin, self, and the world, he will probably be more hardened in his unbelief. Those who already know and love the truth are glad when they read it clearly written in a neighbour's life, are grieved when they see a false image of the Lord held up before the eyes of men.
2. Many readers, however, fail to see the meaning of the plainest letters. None so blind as those who will not see. Considering how defective most readers are either in will or skill, or both, the living epistles should be written in characters both large and fair. Some MSS. are so defectively written that none but experts can decipher them. Skilled and practised men can piece them together, and gather the sense where, to ordinary eyes, only unconnected scrawls appear. Benevolent ingenuity has produced a kind of writing that even the blind can read. Such should be the writing of Christ's mind on a Christian's conversation. It should be raised in characters so large that even the blind, who cannot see, may be compelled, by contact with Christians, to feel that Christ is passing by.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?