We are Christ’s letter to the world

sendHave you ever written an email in anger or annoyance, and hit “Send” — then wished you could pull it back? Have you ever regretted posting something on Facebook? As many have warned in this day of Internet immediacy: once it’s out there, it’s out there, and you may not be able to undo what you’ve done.

Sometimes, I’m almost obsessive about the wording of my emails; I want to make sure I get it right. Even with that degree of care, misunderstandings still happen. And as a writer and blogger, I’m quite conscious of the fact that people whom I have never met, who live in places I have never visited, will judge me by what I write.

As we’ve seen in a previous post, Paul pushes aside the idea that he needs a letter of recommendation to prove himself to the Corinthians or anyone else. But then he makes an interesting move, one which must have caught the Corinthians by surprise:

You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are Christ’s letter, delivered by us. You weren’t written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. You weren’t written on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor 3:2-3, CEB)

Today, if you’re applying for a job, you try to pack your resume with the most impressive achievements and provide only the best letters of reference. Here, Paul tells the Corinthians, “You are my letter, right out there for everyone to read.”

Um…really, Paul? Corinth?  Wouldn’t Philippi be a much better choice?

And if that weren’t enough, Paul goes further: the Corinthians, with all their questionable beliefs and behaviors, are a letter from Christ, written through the ministry of Paul and the other apostles. It is, of course, a metaphor — but a stunning one.

Paul’s words are noteworthy for three reasons. First, Paul says that the Corinthians are written on his heart — a deeply affectionate thing to say to a congregation that has given him so much grief. But many pastors (not to mention parents!) know just that feeling: whatever may happen, however they may go astray, these are the people I have shepherded, and I love them.

Second, he is able to say that they are Christ’s letter, not because they behave with perfect amiability or righteousness, but because the Spirit of the living God is clearly working in and amongst them. Yes, they have skewed notions of spirituality, but that doesn’t mean that their gifts aren’t real. Yes, they have been testy and rebellious, but they have also responded in repentance to Paul’s scolding.

And third, Paul’s language suggests that he sees all of this as evidence that God has made good on the promise given through the prophet Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one, and I will give you my spirit so that you may walk according to my regulations and carefully observe my case laws. (Ezek 36:26-27, CEB)

The Corinthians, for all their faults, are still evidence of something of deep significance to Paul, the Pharisee and former persecutor of the church. God has made a new covenant with his people: not one of an externally imposed law, but an internal gift of life in the Spirit.

More on this in subsequent posts.  For now, here’s a provocative thought: if we are a letter from Jesus to the world, out there for all to see, what will people read there?

2 thoughts on “We are Christ’s letter to the world

  1. Hi, Cameron, I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog and your thoughts about Christianity and church. Recently, I’ve been struggling with a few things about church/being a Christian and God reminded me of you…I would really like to hear your thoughts….
    Here is the story:
    One of my friend who was baptized in college is going to get married this year. According to her, even though she’s not a “practicing Christian,” she would still like to be blessed by God through a Christian wedding ceremony, especially with her fiancee as a non-Christian, she would like to introduce him to God and church family. However, it was not as easy as she thought. When she first reached out to a pastor she knew, she was turned down, “sorry, even though I personally don’t have any problem with it, it is my church’s stand to never officiate marriage between Christian and non-Christian.” The second pastor she reached out to, initially agreed, however, when he realized that she was already living with her fiancee, he called her and said, “Sorry, I can’t offer my service anymore, I felt it’s very ridiculous to do pre-marital counseling with you and talk about purity since you are obviously having sex before marriage.” (nope, he didn’t try to say it in a more polite way.) My friend called me and cried on the phone, “why is it so hard for me to be blessed by God? When I tried to tell my fiancee that God and church are loving and accepting, this is what I get!”
    My heart ached with her, but I don’t know what to say to comfort her, I could only say, “I’m so sorry this happened to you, dear. It should not be this way.”

    I could not stop thinking it. A few questions popped up:

    1. I understand the churches have their stands and beliefs, “not to participate in other’s sin” “church need to stand by God’s truth” however, if my friend and her fiancee choose to join the church after their wedding, I’m sure the church would not reject them, and even embrace them because “her husband is not a Christian yet.” “Church is a place for sinners, not saints.” But, for the same reason “because your husband is not a Christian” “because you’re unholy”, rejecting them and refused to bless them on their wedding is ok to do? That really doesn’t make sense to me….

    2. I understand that my friend was not showing her commitment to her faith, and there should be consequences. (as in you can’t expect God to protect you and bless you when you’re not doing things that’s pleasing Him, such as stealing) However, isn’t God’s grace and blessing free for all? Does one have to show his/her effort to be free from sin then he/she would be deemed worth for the blessing? As you mentioned in the above entry, even thought Corinthians were not perfect Christians, still, they are still considered “letter from Christ,” they are still part of God’s family. However, should church just accept everyone without expecting them to change and grow in God? (I get that acceptance is what promote changes in therapy, however, I don’t know if this will work in church…..even though healing is God’s idea, He probably would like to see that happen in His church, too.)

    How would you respond? Where do you think the church should stand? Please share!

    1. Hi, Gloria. Good to hear from you!

      Wow, difficult subject… First of all, let me say how sorry I am to hear that your friend has had this experience. Pastors should have the freedom to decide where they want to take their stand when making policies about wedding officiation–but this should always be done with grace, humility, and compassion. For myself, the question is less about “Where do I draw inviolable boundary lines that I refuse to cross?” and more about “What might God want me to do in this situation to help a person draw closer to him?” That still might not mean performing the wedding, but it might mean having a conversation that left the door open for later curiosity and fellowship.

      Second, here’s the theological question: what does your friend mean by “bless”? FYI, I’ve officiated a wedding for a couple in a situation similar to the one you described. At one point in the premarital preparation process, before I had actually committed to doing the ceremony, I said to them something like, “If I agree to do this, I’m going to be standing up there asking God to bless your marriage. Can you tell me right now what that would mean to you?” In other words, I wouldn’t want to close the door on them just because I saw them being on the other side of a boundary line; I would want the ambiguities of the situation to be an opportunity for pastoral conversation. (At that point, I had still left it open-ended as to whether I would say yes–and they understood this from the beginning–but I also explicitly said that I didn’t want to string the conversation along for too long, because I knew that they had to make a decision.)

      Thus, I wouldn’t just take for granted that because your friend hoped to be “blessed” in some way that I should say yes; “blessing” in this case might mean little more than, “I’ve always dreamed of having a church wedding, and still want that, even if I neither I nor my husband have a relationship with God.” I wouldn’t support that. But I do consider the ceremony itself to be a time when God is present and active, including in the responses of those who are merely watching the wedding. If they are willing to hold the door open for the Spirit of God, I’m ready to hold the door with them.

      I hope that’s helpful! Feel free to respond if you have more questions.
      Peace,
      C

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