In today’s YouTube video with Rudy Ross, I talk about a very unusual preacher I knew when I was in college. As a young man, he was incarcerated for drunkenness and fighting.
After a profound conversion, he began preaching. He couldn’t read, so his wife read the Bible to him.
He literally built the church where he was the pastor. He both gathered the crowd as the founding pastor and used his carpentry skills to construct the building.
The summer before I headed to seminary, I preached at his church. The attendance was close to 200.
Not long after I was there, this remarkable man was replaced by someone with more education. With the new pastor, the growth of the church was halted.
Paul was in a similar position as this man of my youth. He founded the church in Corinth, but others were trying to unseat his leadership.
Paul responded to the attack because he knew that the assault on his authority would injure the faith of the fledgling congregation.
— 2 Corinthians 3.1-3 – Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all,
And you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are human hearts.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation were used in the first century to authenticate the role of a speaker or leader.
The letters were particularly helpful to obtain the patronage of the wealthy.
Paul did not have letters of recommendation and he refused to be obligated to patrons. In fact, Paul believed that he was the patron or father of the church in Corinth.
Like the pastor in my illustration, there was a risk of Paul being replaced by a lesser qualified leader.
Paul knew that he didn’t need a letter to prove his authority. His work was validated by the way the Holy Spirit transformed the lives of the Corinthians.
It is important to understand the role of an apostle to fully appreciate Paul’s position.
An apostle was a “sent one” from a higher authority. Paul was sent to represent the King of all kings as his agent among the churches.
If the church thought lightly of Paul’s authority, the disrespect was also transferred to the One who sent him.
Paul’s situation in Corinth reveals the need to recognize spiritual authority. Here’s another story from my early years of ministry.
A beloved pastor developed Parkinson’s Disease. The church allowed him to continue to pastor, even though his ministry was diminished by the disease. Attendance faltered and there were some grumblings among the flock.
After his retirement, a friend of mine became the pastor. In a short period of time, the church exploded with growth and influence in the community.
I spoke to my friend about the church’s remarkable growth. He believed that the growth was due in part to God-honoring the church for caring for its ill pastor.
No doubt, spiritual authority can be abused. Paul refused to “lord it over” the congregation. Instead, he served them in love.
When a leader serves the congregation out of love, it should make it easier for them to respect their authority.
Old Testament Images
The Law is referred to in this passage as “tablets of stone” and a “letter that kills” in the next verses.
Paul’s language has led some over the centuries to wrongly disparage the Ten Commandments as Rudy Ross explains in today’s video.
The text reads as follows.
— 2 Corinthians 3.4-6 – Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
Not that we are qualified of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our qualification is from God,
Who has made us qualified to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Throughout the next couple of chapters, Paul makes his point by arguing from the lesser to the greater.
The Ten Commandments, along with the Temple and sacrificial system, are quite valuable. Rudy rightly points out that these elements of our connection with God are essential to a proper understanding of what Jesus has done for us.
How then can we see them as “tablets of stone” and a “letter that kills”?
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Ben Witherington writes that Paul is speaking on the effect of the Ten Commandments, not their purpose.
The purpose of the Ten Commandments is to tell people how to rightly relate to God and other humans. Imagine what our world would look like if everyone followed these ten guides for living.
The problem with humans is that we fail to follow what God has taught us. We can say the same thing about the Sermon on the Mount. We know what God says, but fail to do it.
When people hear the good news of God’s love and respond in faith, God puts his Spirit within us. The Spirit enables us to live according to God’s guidance.
The result is that we experience the abundant life Jesus came to give us (John 10.10).
Paul wrote a very passionate letter to the Corinthians because he wanted them to live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
The transforming work of the Spirit is essential to the experience of God’s very best.
I frequently refer to a YouTube video that Rudy Ross and I produce. It can be found on the Bob Spradling channel.
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