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2 Corinthians 3:1–3

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (v. 2).

As we have seen, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians after hearing of the Corinthians’ repentance for failing to discipline the man who opposed him during his “painful visit” (see 2 Cor. 2:1–4). His purpose was to express joy that they were again acting according to the truth and wanted full reconciliation with him. Nevertheless, that was not his only purpose in writing. False apostles had also come to trouble the Corinthians, questioning Paul’s credentials as a true Apostle. Paul first makes reference to these false apostles in 2:17, though indirectly, by referring to a group of teachers as those who were “peddlers of God’s word.”

It is hard to identify these false teachers and the content of their instruction. Paul’s reference to them as “peddlers of God’s word” indicates that they were motivated by money. Perhaps they preached some kind of ancient prosperity gospel that promised wealth and success to believers. That would fit with their criticisms of Paul for his suffering, which Paul responds to in chapters 10–12. Paul’s emphasis in chapter 3 on the superiority of the new covenant ministry to the ministry of Moses also seems to indicate that they clung to the Mosaic covenant more than they should have.

Today’s passage begins Paul’s contrast between the old and new covenants. In 2 Corinthians 3:2–3, Paul refers to the Corinthians as a letter of recommendation written by the Spirit of God on human hearts, not on tablets of stone. Paul is setting up a contrast between the external nature of the old covenant, which could command but not give the power to obey, and the internal, transformative work of the new covenant, which delivers the power to serve God. This was typified by the stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments, the very laws Israel broke as Moses was receiving them (Ex. 32).

The Apostle sets up the contrast by pivoting from a demand for letters of recommendation to his theological exposition of the contrast between the two covenants, as seen in 2 Corinthians 3:1. In the ancient world, teachers would often bring letters of recommendation from students and others when they came to a new place. Apparently, the false apostles were somehow questioning Paul’s credentials, perhaps because he did not carry such letters of recommendation. Paul’s response is that the Corinthians themselves are that letter, as God has written His law on their hearts, fulfilling the new covenant promise (see Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Chrysostom comments that “the virtues of disciples commend the teacher more than any letter.” Paul was so confident in his ministry among the Corinthians that they could serve as living proof of the authenticity of his teaching. In like manner, we can serve as the best recommendation of the ministry of the teachers who have most affected us. If we want to commend a teacher to others, our lives will be the best witness.

For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 30:6
  • Ezekiel 11:14–21
  • John 16:1–11
  • Romans 2:25–29

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From the August 2021 Issue
Aug 2021 Issue