Chapter 2:16b-3:6 (ESV) - Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Question to consider: In what way were the Corinthians Paul’s letter of recommendation?
Paul’s question was related to being the aroma of life to those who were receiving eternal life through Christ Jesus. In our own strength and worldly attempts at good works, we are nothing but the stench of death. For without Christ, our good works are temporary and fade away like everything else in this world.
When Paul wrote of so many “peddler’s of God’s word,” he was referring to those outside of Christ who preached the Law. Paul already talked about the power of the Law (things we are to do) being death in his last letter (1 Corinthians 15:56). So those who made money proclaiming the Law written on the tablets (the ten commandments) or inked by the scribes (the traditions of the elders) could not proclaim life but death, for there was no longer a sacrifice for sins outside of Christ. This became even more apparent when Christ destroyed the temple through the Romans in 70 AD.
However, Paul and his companions were men of sincerity because they proclaimed Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. When Christians speak the Law, we speak to what is written on our hearts by the Spirit of God so that people understand their need for Christ. Because the Corinthians preached this same message, they served as a witness or “letter of recommendation” that he spread to them the knowledge of Christ as a pleasing aroma of life.
Our confidence in being in a right relationship with God is not found in our good works but in the Christ in which we put our faith. We are made sufficient to be ministers of the new covenant in Christ by God’s grace. Certainly we strive to grow in our faith and to submit ever more to God, but don’t think that your good works are what create faith. The Spirit of God gives life in us and through us.
Dear heavenly father, we confess that we constantly fall short of Your glory. Please forgive us and renew us and lead us so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Help us to be faithful to proclaim the name of Christ. Amen.