Have 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?