Vol.XV No.VIII Pg.5
October 1978

Living Letters

Dan S. Shipley

The life of every person is a message. We say something by the way we live. The apostle Paul makes this very point in 2 Cor. 3. Apparently, Paul and his work had been greatly discredited by his enemies in Corinth. So much so, in fact, that he asks: "...or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or from you?" (v. 1). It is not surprising that the false teachers would need letters of commendation. But Paul? The very one who had wrought the signs of an apostle among them: The one who had wronged no man; who had corrupted no man; who had taken advantage of no man?

Why, "Ye are our epistle", he continues, "written in our hearts, known and read of all men..." (v. 2). The Christians at Corinth bespeak of Paul's great work; his influence can be seen in what they themselves have become (1 Cor. 6:9-I1). In 1 Cor. 9:2 he calls them "the seal of mine apostleship". That is, as a seal they attest to the genuineness of his claims. But, not only do their lives reflect the influence of Paul, they reflect the influence of Him who influences Paul.

Accordingly, Paul writes: "...ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh" (v. 3). All men are letters, but not all are letters of Christ. The life of every man says something, but it just doesn't read the same without the Lord. Those who imagine themselves as well off without Christ bear an effective, but discouraging message to all who know and read them. Even children can read such living letters, and worse, be immeasurably influenced by them.

On the other hand, those who are epistles of Christ are "made manifest" as such, Paul says (v. 3). It is how we live more than what we claim that demonstrates a Christ-controlled life. Such living is but the expression of what has been "written" on the heart. It is one thing to have the word of God in hand, that is, written in ink or on stone. But to have God's word in the heart is far better! Many have Bibles who have not taken God's word to heart. A prophecy from Jeremiah referred to in Heb. 8 says, "I will put my laws into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them... "(v.10) God's faithful are such as appropriate and apply His word to their every day living — they are truly epistles of Christ, and others know it.

For this reason Paul writes, ye are "known and read of all men". While men cannot read the heart, they can and do know the kind of life that issues forth from the heart. To put it in space terminology, the heart is man's guidance system. It directs and controls his every activity. When Christ controls the guidance system, men will "read" our good works and, hopefully, glorify God (Matt. 5:16). The apostle Paul was an impressive letter of Christ. "For me to live", he said, "is Christ" (Phil. 1:21). None could deny the remarkable influence of Christ in his life. Now, as the Corinthians and others saw Christ in Paul, so ought the world to read the same in all Christians. " ...among whom ye are seen as lights in the world..." (Phil. 2:15).