From time to time over the years, I have had people ask if I would write a letter of reference for them. Maybe they were applying for a job, purchasing a home, or seeking a loan. Whoever they were dealing with wanted assurance from a reliable source, so the party would come to me for such a letter of reference. You have probably had that happen to you.
In 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NLT), we read, “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! 2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. 3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.”
Paul frequently found himself facing false teachers. In order to make themselves sound legitimate they tried to discredit Paul by saying that he wasn’t a real apostle, or saying he had abandoned the law of Moses. One such group was known as Judaizers. They taught that salvation was by faith in Christ plus the keeping of the law. They also taught that a believer is perfected in his faith by obeying the law of Moses. Paul calls these people “peddlers” of the Word of God or “religious racketeers” who preyed on innocent people.
These Judaizers boasted that they carried “letters of recommendation” from the important people in the Jerusalem church and that Paul didn’t have any such letters. Which would you sooner have – a letter from someone giving you credibility or God evaluating your life and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
Here is Paul’s defense in 2 Corinthians 2:17 (NLT) – “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.”
Instead of a message of do’s and don’ts, people need to hear that God loves them and that His amazing grace is available for everyone. The message of grace changes the heart. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word and writes that message, not on tablets of stone, but into the heart of man. When Paul first came to the Corinthians, they were wicked sinners but the message of God’s grace changed all that. Paul gives us a tremendous picture of the difference God’s grace makes in the heart and life of a believer.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT) says, “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Paul goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NLT), that those who have put their hope and trust in Christ have been transformed and that their changed lives are the only “letters” he needs to support him being a legitimate apostle and servant of the Lord. My question is – what kind of a letter or message is my life and yours? When people read us, do they get a true picture of who our Lord Jesus is and what He can do to transform their lives?
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NLT), Paul gives us another picture of what the believer’s life is to be like. “But thank God! He has made us His captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?”
Today the unbelieving world views Christians as trash, terrorists, and a threat to the way they want to live. But to God who loves us, our lives are like a wonderful, satisfying fragrance or aroma rising up before Him. We are faced with many different kinds of fragrances or aromas – some pleasant and others awful. As a deeply committed Christian, our fragrance should be very pleasing to God, like a wonderful incense coming up before Him.
Don’t expect the unsaved world to appreciate you. They will, more than likely, think we stink. We are the smell of death to them. But as Christians, we should be a loving fragrance to each other and to our LORD.
God bless you.