“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
There were many false teachers in Corinth who, in trying to defend their position of authority in the church, produced forged letters of recommendation. Paul had a very simple and supernatural response – the letters that defend my position of authority in the church are not written on paper, but on the hearts of all those who have come to faith through my ministry. Make no mistake in what Paul was claiming – I need nothing more to prove my position in preaching the good news of the Gospel than the “living letters” you yourselves can read in those who have come to faith in Christ. The question for us is this: When read by others, are we the kind of “living letters” that point powerfully and positively to our Lord?
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “You are the only Bible some people will ever read.” Or, “You are the only Christ some people will ever see.” Now, as a pastor, I think I understand what is meant by these statements. But also as a pastor, I want to be very careful to make sure statements like these don’t create undue and inordinate pressure to measure up. And do you know why? Because none of us measure up. I don’t measure up. You don’t measure up. We all think, say and do things that betray the Truth we know, love and profess. So, if we can get past the fact that we never actually measure up and won’t until we are received into glory, we can get on doing the best we can with all God has given us to do it with as His “living letters.”
To be the Lord’s “living letter” is to be living for the glory of God and the good of others. It is to let the watching world read the truths of the Gospel through the life you are living. To be sure, you are living it imperfectly, but God is in the business of using imperfect people because that’s all He has to work with. The ink of the Holy Spirit is to be written all over the life of the believer, so it can be read by those who come in contact with it. Those God brings into contact with us are going to read whatever is on the published pages of our lives, whether positive or negative, and what they read will inform their view of the kind of God we profess to love and serve. Do our lives reflect the purpose, passion and presence of our Lord, regardless of the cost or circumstance?
Now some Christians believe this is virtually impossible to do in the cultural context in which we are living today, one that is not only post-Christian, but anti-Christian. First, God has ordained us to be in this culture right now. Second, God has ordained us to be in this anti-Christian culture right now, for such a time as this. Here are two powerful biblical examples of what it means to be a “living letter” for the Lord in very challenging circumstances that have been a source of great encouragement to me:
Joseph was a “living letter” for the Lord in Egypt
Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers at the age of seventeen, Joseph finds himself in the pagan land of Egypt. But instead of giving up or giving in to the powerful pagan influences, Joseph rises above the waves of challenge and continues living for the glory of God and the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Pharaoh said of Joseph, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38). To be sure, the ink of the Holy Spirit was written all over the life of Joseph.
Daniel was a “living letter” for the Lord in Babylon
As a prisoner of war during the Babylonian captivity, Daniel never took his eyes off of his God. Even when he was threatened if he continued praying to his God, Daniel would get down on his knees in his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem and prayed to God three times each day. When his enemies told King Darius, Daniel was thrown into the Lion’s Den because his prayers to the One True Living God were a violation of a decree intended to trap Daniel, which could not be repealed. And what did the king know of the life Daniel was living? “May your God, whom you serve continually rescue you” (Daniel 6:16). And God did just that.
Now, it’s not easy being the “living letters” the Lord has called us to be. I am sure it wasn’t easy for Joseph or Daniel. But because they fixed their focus on God and not their circumstances, depending on God and leaning not on their own understanding, they were “living letters” for all the world to read. Now perhaps we will not be sold into slavery or thrown into the lion’s den, but we will experience difficulties when we choose to live for the glory of God in a culture that has little regard, if any, for God.
I want to close this word of apologetic encouragement with what I believe to be the foundation upon which our lives must be built if we really want to become “living letters” of the Lord that when read by others, will cause them to see Jesus and Him only – and it comes from the 20th century devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.
“Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day. But if you swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, then every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.”
This is the breakfast of champions. Each morning, let us “break-the-fast” from our focus on Jesus while we slept with time alone in His presence in our first waking moment. Then everything we do will be stamped with His presence, and the “letter” He writes in our lives will point all those who read us back to Him.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com. For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.