2 Corinthians 3:1-3
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, letters of commendation to you…
It was an early custom in the Christian Church for teachers to carry with them "letters of commendation" when they passed from town to town. Of this custom we have an indication in Acts 18:27, "When Apollos was disposed to pass into Achaia [Corinth], the brethren [of Ephesus] wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him." And the thirteenth canon of the Council of Chalcedon ordained that "clergymen coming to a city where they were unknown, should not be allowed to officiate without letters commendatory from their own bishop." It seems to have been made a charge against the apostle that he never presented any credentials, but assumed an authority for which he had no warrant. The apostle is here replying to such a charge, and his plea is that, having so manifestly received the greater commendation of God's witness with his work, he in no sense can need man's good word. His converts were the best possible commendation. His letters were those written by God as truth on human hearts. From the Christian standpoint the only satisfactory proof of call to ministry is the Divine seal set on the work of the ministry. It was the plea of St. Peter, when accounting for his admitting the Gentiles into the privileges of the Christian Church, that the "Holy Ghost had fallen upon them, even as upon us at the beginning." And that was felt to be an all-sufficient attestation of the work which St. Peter had done. In the same way St. Paul pleads that spiritual results had followed his ministry among the Corinthians. God had set his seal upon it, and that was his wholly satisfactory commendation, and the basis of any authority he claimed. Speaking in a figure he says, "The Corinthians are an epistle." He regards Christ as the Author, and himself as the amanuensis. The characters of this epistle were preserved by no visible or perishable medium, but by the invisible operation of the Spirit. We consider -
I. THE USEFULNESS OF HUMAN COMMENDATIONS. Such are found to be necessary in the intercourse of nations. The ambassador is duly furnished with his credentials; and the representative of the business firm carries with him his authority to act in the name of the firm. So it is found of practical value that clergymen and ministers going to other districts or countries should have such attestation as will win for them the confidence of those to whom they may happen to minister. Several questions of interest arise in connection with this subject.
1. From what central bodies, or from what individuals, should such letters of commendation come?
2. What should they properly concern? And can they ever wisely go beyond the attestation of personal character and ministerial efficiency? Men must be judged by their works rather than by the opinion which others may have formed concerning them. Still, in every age, Churches have needed to be guarded against plausible but unworthy men, who force themselves into positions of influence unawares. And this has been the special trouble of all smaller Churches, and those existing apart from Christian organizations. Every ordinary man should depend for his acceptance upon his letters of recommendation.
II. THE LIMITATION OF THE DEMAND FOR SUCH LETTERS. Sometimes they are merely vexations. The demand for them is a mere piece of officialism. Some men so stand before the world that no letters about them can be necessary. And the letters may only. concern
They should not deal with disputable opinions. A full and fair estimate of character is sufficient to give confidence that a man's work will be honest and faithful. Commendations of so called "orthodoxy" or "heterodoxy" can never be anything but mischievous. We may commend the man; we had better take care not to commend his opinions. Of these let those to whom he ministers be the judges.
III. GOD'S WAYS OF MAKING SUCH LETTERS WHOLLY UNNECESSARY. From the case of St. Paul we learn that God may so manifestly show his acceptance of a man and a man's work that no other credential can possibly be necessary. A man's labours and successes may sufficiently declare that he is a man of God, a messenger of God. Illustrate by such cases as Luther, Whitefield, Brainerd, etc. We must well apprehend that, because a thing is unusual, it is not therefore untrue. And in every age men have been raised up whose strongly marked individuality leads them to take fresh lines of thought and of work. Men may hesitate to give such men their credentials; it is enough if God manifestly accepts them. - R.T.
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?