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Sabbath Mornings at Ballymacashon – 30th June 2013

29/06/2013

Ballymacashon Congregational Church

Order of Service: Sabbath 23rd June 2013
Service Theme: Living Letters

Call to Worship:

Praise: Psalm 15:1-5
Within thy tabernacle, Lord,
who shall abide with thee?
And in thy high and holy hill
who shall a dweller be?

The man that walketh uprightly,
and worketh righteousness,
And as he thinketh in his heart,
so doth he truth express.

Who doth not slander with his tongue,
nor to his friend doth hurt;
Nor yet against his neighbour doth
take up an ill report.

In whose eyes vile men are despis’d;
but those that God do fear
He honoureth; and changeth not,
though to his hurt he swear.

His coin puts not to usury,
nor take reward will he
Against the guiltless. Who doth thus
shall never moved be.

Prayer:

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3:1-6

Children’s Address:

Praise: The Sweetest Name

Prayer:

Sermon:
Living Letters or Dead Letters!
Text: 2nd Corinthians 3:1-6
Paul tells the Corinthians that they are not to be so inward looking and so fractious that they cannot be a witness to the world. On the contrary, they are to be a sweet smelling savour of Christ to the world! Now he uses his own defence, his own situation, to bring forth another analogy – the Corinthians must be LIVING EPISTLES!
Let’s see briefly how Paul develops this:-

1. Living Letters!
Now this passage is all about letters, so notice:-
Paul’s Strange Self-commendation! Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Paul didn’t go around the churches speaking about himself, or continually resorting to a testimony of what God had done for him. His only task was to preach Christ, and to lift up His name. 1 Cor. 1:23 But sometimes this kind of self defence was very necessary, as it was here, for once again Paul is under attack from people who have spun a web of lies and malicious gossip about him!
A Reference to ‘Letters Commendatory.’ He writes, or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

A general practice. Now, there was a practice in the early church, where itinerant preachers would visit churches, and would present to the leaders of the church a letter of commendation. At Corinth, and in the early church in general, the letter would be from a mutual friend or a respected church leader, and it would recommend the bearer as a fit person to minister in the church.
A useful practice! Now this was generally a very good practice. It is totally wrong for a church to invite into its pulpit anyone who is personally unknown to the church. Paul does not disagree with this practice; in fact he did it himself. In Romans 16, he writes a letter of commendation for Phoebe, a Deaconess. Romans 16:1-2

 

A Corinthian practice. Now obviously the men who had defamed Paul at Corinth had possessed letters of commendation from some quarter! Perhaps from another church. Perhaps from the Sanhedrin, designed to bring these people back into line with Judaism. After all, we know that they had issued letters like that to Paul himself, in his pre-conversion days. Acts 9:1-2
So, Paul asks, “Do we need letters like these? Just as these others had?”
Paul’s Spiritual Commendation! Ye are our epistle written in our hearts. Paul’s argument is that he doesn’t need a letter of commendation Paul had not been called by men, he was the apostle of Jesus Christ! And for another reason also, because the very fact that there is a church at Corinth at all is enough to commend him! It was the living proof that what Paul had been preaching was the Word of God! God had written his letter on the Corinthians themselves, and he had used Paul as His spiritual pen! He’d not done it with ink, but with the Holy Spirit whose writing upon the hearts of believers would never fade away! Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

Matthew Henry: There is nothing more delightful to faithful ministers, nor more to their commendation, than the success of their ministry, evidenced in the hearts and lives of those among whom they labour.

Now there is a very good spiritual application of this for us today! Christian is an epistle of Christ who is known and read by all men! The world does not attend church, does not read the Bible, but the people out there read us! They watch our lives, and they see our testimony! Can they see Christ living in me? As living letters we are to be known and read of all men.

So, every Christian must be a LIVING EPISTLE. A LETTER from Jesus to the lost of this world. Are we really?

2. Dead Letters!
Paul not only says that the Christians are living epistles for Jesus, but he points out there may be Christians and ministers who are well ‘lettered’ but who are entirely dead spiritually! Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 2 Cor. 3:1-6
Strictly, Paul is making a comparison here between the Old Testament and the New, the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and assesses himself and his fellow-labourers by this standard, that they were able ministers of the New Testament, that God had made them so, 2Co_3:6. This he does in answer to the accusations of the false teachers, who may have been Judaisers who were magnifying greatly the law of Moses.

But in a broader sense, as Paul is speaking about the Corinthians as letters that are living, he must have had in mind some who had these ‘letters commendatory’ who were in fact spiritually dead! There are plenty of examples of that today in the visible church. There are plenty of pulpits where the Gospel is not being preached, where ministers and elders have all the qualifications, all the university degrees, and all the appearance of a cleric, but they have never tasted anything of the grace of God.

Paul urged the people of Corinth (and of course, we who claim the name of Christ today) to be LIVING LETTERS!

Praise: Love Lifted Me

Benediction.

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