A Ministry that Desires Integrity Must Be Trustworthy.

The best way to protect the church from religious racketeers is to compare the nature and practice of the false and genuine.

Untrustworthy, dishonest peddlers of a works-based gospel had distracted the Corinthian church from ministry progress. In this letter, Paul repeatedly compares his own genuine love to the falseness of teachers with other motives (2 Corinthians 4:2, 5:12, 10:12-18, 11:7-15, 11:20-21, 12:14-18).

Judaizers professed Christ but added works to the Gospel. The genuine believers were those who humbly trusted the sufficiency of God’s grace instead of the sufficiency of the Mosaic Law.

Front-End Messaging (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The first 3 verses of this chapter compare both groups’ initial message.

Paul was not opposed to letters of recommendation; but he already had an established relationship with the Corinthian church. The false teachers unsettled the Corinthians by their constant demand for the approval of other people.

Other historical authors record that these false preachers would show letters of commendation to demand an audience on arrival and demanded similar letters when they left. When they could not persuasively pilfer a certain group, they would often forge their own letters. These were “unworthy adventurers with unreliable credentials.”

Falsehood is perpetually intentional. It will always expect things that have nothing to do with Gospel expectations or fruit. It always demands an impersonal and subjective support for the message. False teachers preach to impress, preach for personal and financial gain, and usually add a work of the Law to the message of salvation through Christ alone.

The messaging of truth is a contrast to all of the above. Paul only sought the approval of God, not other people. His message was personal because he knew the Corinthians, had preached the pure Gospel to them, and had seen divine change from within. This was not temporary but a lasting change that exerted an influence on those around them.

“This is a letter engraved in Paul's heart, not flourished in his hand or carried in his luggage. It is something far more intimate than an external document of paper with ink, and at the same time, far more permanent.”

Paul’s heart was forever knit with souls who had been changed by the Gospel. Their lives were personal and public demonstrations of the same. The grace of God accompanies the life of a true believer, everywhere he or she goes and whatever he or she does.

The messaging of Paul is simple yet profound. God's grace alone demonstrates itself in a changed life, and that life becomes a letter of Jesus Christ.

“The medium of writing is not perishable ink but divine spirit. The presence of the eternal age of Christ's kingdom is discernible even amid the shadows of our fallen and temporal world in the redeeming and sanctifying operation of the sovereign spirit of God, whose writing is dynamic and permanent.”

The word “manifest” in verse 3 means their lives made Christ become visible. This transformation is involuntary when one is governed by the Spirit of God. We enjoy the perfection of Christ in our hearts through justification and are always progressing in Christ-likeness through sanctification. This makes Christ more and more visible through our lives.

Never underestimate the necessity for interdependent fellowship and care for one another in God’s Word.

Paul’s allusion to “tablets of stone” reminded the Corinthians that the Law could not save. He wrote elsewhere that the purpose of the Law was to reveal our imperfection and lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25) so we could experience the inward change that only the Holy Spirit can bring.

Application Points:

  • Do you measure your worth by what people say about you or what God knows about you? What does God know about you?
  • Has God’s grace demonstrated itself in a transformation of your life?
  • Especially in a time when our world seems like it is falling apart, your life will be supernaturally distinct as you manifest Christ. Do you show His glory and joy or your own brokenness?

Cross References:

  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – the purity of Paul’s motive.