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Friday, February 17, 2017

Today's Scripture Reading | 2 Corinthians 3:1–18

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, to be 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 of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (NRSV)

Although we know them best from college and job applications, Paul’s mention of “letters of recommendation” in this passage refers to a slightly more personal practice in the time period in which Paul was writing. In the Greco-Roman world, letters of recommendation were a common way to facilitate conversation and connection between acquaintances—a similar sort of vouching for someone else as with college and job applications but more akin to a character reference than one of competencies.

One of the main purposes, particularly with regards to the traveling missionary culture of the time, was to help assure people that they weren’t being taken in by charlatans. If a letter bearing the signature of a well-known or respected figure was shown, that person was deemed trustworthy. Paul, though, seems to see the practice as unnecessary with regards to sharing the news of the gospel—a sort of “actions speak louder than words” policy. Each believer in Christ is his or her own letter of Christ, Paul stresses, with God’s words written onto our hearts rather than on paper or stone. That is how God will be made known.

When applied to our modern context, the urgency of Paul’s words seems clear: each of us may be someone’s sole example of what it means to follow Christ today, and our actions will speak louder about our faith than any words we might say. Knowing this, how might we allow God’s Spirit to be written deep within our hearts—and how might we allow God’s Spirit to transform us?

Holy God, remind me that the way I live my life today may be someone’s sole example of what it means to follow you. Strengthen me so that I might serve as a powerful “letter of recommendation” to you and your way. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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